Archive for November, 2020|Monthly archive page

Breaking the ice

Mom died five years ago. Today, I burned, recycled and threw away some of her mail from the early 2000s. It was the first batch of her many belongings in my basement that I’ve gone through since she died.

I’m used to having a messy basement. I grew up in a house with a ridiculously messy basement. At the bottom of the steps, we took a sharp left turn to access the narrow path to the washer and dryer in the back room, where the furnace was. When I was finished with a toy or grew out of my clothes, I’d go to the bottom of the steps and toss whatever I was discarding into the pile of family junk that filled up most of the main room.

Our basement in this house has gone through phases in the 22 years we’ve lived here. The woman who owned the house before us let her dog use the concrete basement floor as a toilet, so it started out bleachy-clean. Over the years we’ve accumulated various household goods and, in 2007, we stored a bunch of Mom’s things downstairs after we moved her out of an apartment and in to assisted living. Were I more organized, I might have discarded mail dating back to 2001 at that time, but I didn’t. Nor did I organize the hundreds of loose photos that were scattered around her apartment. While she was still sick, I couldn’t bear the thought of doing any more work related to Mom than what I was doing as her caregiver. After she died, I pretty much shut down to completing any task related to Mom. And I’ve stayed that way for five years. So her belongings have remained untouched.

In January 2019, we renovated our kitchen, and moved most of our kitchen items to the basement. With some of those things still downstairs gathering dust and a pandemic elliptical machine in the process of being shipped, we have reached an agreement: We will spend some amount of time every day working on getting the basement in order. (For the record, Patrick is much more dedicated to this kind of work. I find it overwhelming – even though it in no way resembles the basement of my childhood.)

So today, after doing some organizing in the laundry area and setting aside clothes for donation, I grabbed an accordion file folder of Mom’s labeled “Mail to go through.” I sat on the living room floor with Mom’s file folder and sorted the contents in three piles: fireplace, recycling bin, trash.

Things that caught my eye:

  • Mom looked into cremation in 1996 – nine years before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Mom paid certain bills in installments, and wrote notes to herself about how much she had paid on what date, and how much she still owed.
  • Mom had collections of different kinds of stickers – smiley faces, Christmas trees, dogs. I kept the dog stickers.
  • Mom had a CT scan of her abdomen in 1997. I remember vaguely that she told me – after she knew she was OK – that she had had a health scare. That she had been concerned she might have pancreatic cancer. At the time I was hurt that she hadn’t told me earlier. But now I understand – and the parallel strikes me as … perhaps meaningful, but probably just a coincidence?
    • I had a CT scan of my abdomen Monday. I got my results today – all clear, no abnormalities in any organs and an update on the misaligned vertebrae in my lower back that I’ve known about for years. I talked to my doctor about unexplained lower abdominal pain a few weeks ago, and she ordered the scan out of an abundance of caution. I saw on the order today that the screening was for possible gynecologic cancer – which I understood was probably the case, but hadn’t been explicitly stated. I haven’t told anyone about that scan except for two colleagues, but in only vague ways. There was nothing really to tell people because I didn’t know anything. Why cause alarm when I didn’t have any answers? I assume Mom felt the same way. That said, it did cross my mind several times this week that I wished Mom were around to talk to while I waited for my results.
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