Things left behind, things yet to come

I thought it would be easy to sort through the things my mother in law left behind. But some of these artifacts from her life have memories attached that make them hard for family members to untangle from the places she put them -- a comfy rocking chair where she sat, a favorite music box that chimes an old melody from her youth or her father's on the hour, every hour. A satiny red robe -- her favorite color of Christmas. A ludicrous Christmas stocking with a silly grin that hangs out all year on a closet door.

Many of Pat's things are Christmas- or company-related or family items of little retail value but important to her because of who once owned it or gave it to her. Pat loved family, people and parties. She loved having someone over, the more the merrier. She'd smile and offer something to eat or drink. The visitors have left, and so has Pat. Dishes, glasses, photos and holiday decorations remain. And memories.

No one knocks on the door today. They don't come to visit things left behind.

Things are so lifeless. Discarded puppets with no purpose in themselves.

It is a strange task to catalog and divide things left behind among the family when someone dies, to sort through what to keep, what to sell, what to give away. It is much different than going to a resale shop or a yard sale where things have no memories for us.

We can't keep everything here even if we wanted to. We have to choose. What will we take home to become woven into the daily and holiday memories of our lives? A cut glass bowl? A snowflake music box? An evergreen holiday hand towel?

What quantity and types of things will we store up for our children and grandchildren to sort through when we're gone? And will they wish they'd inherited richer memories instead of a stockpile of so many empty things? Not that things are bad. They're just so empty, quiet. And final.

Some visits here, I start off with energy and resolve to do another piece of what needs to get done. But over time, the pace slows in the steady seashore ebb and flow of memories of what was or of what could have been.

Memories can bouy. Memories can wear and erode. Memories bathed in prayer can wash.

This trip, the family is ready to let go of a few more things. Today, I'm taking clothes, shoes and purses away from this collection of memories. Someone else may be able to use them. We're keeping the memories of Pat's willingness to throw something on and pick someone up at Sky Harbor at any time of the day or night. It was never her clothes, it was her warm welcome that mattered.

I'll be going home soon even thought there is so much left to do. We'll come when we can to do the tasks needed. We'll keep this up however long it may take.

Sometimes I think this process shouldn't take this long. But maybe it is better not to have to sort through things and memories in great tsunami heaps. Maybe this slow process is a blessing. We're wading through small waves of work and healing toward the time when all these things left behind will leave this place to new homes and uses. Some we'll keep, some we'll sell, some we'll give away.

With God's strength and wisdom, we'll manage the tasks and transitory things of today, in hope of a lasting inheritance in heaven, filled with laughter and hugs, and perhaps a few beautiful things.

This was written some time ago and today I'm stilling in Whittier, CA, sorting though memories of my mother who died last night. There are few things left of her to give to anyone, mostly what is left are some people who loved her and memories.

How fragile life is, filled with shadows and shunshine. God alone is constant and his love never fails or ends.

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