Sunday, July 21, 2013

Packing up a life


Just finished booking flights to meet my brother in St. Lucia to clear the personal effects from my parents' last home together. My dad's suits still hang in his closet, his shoes are still lined up under them, even though he died 17 years ago. And then there are my mother's things, cocktail dresses, elegant shoes, sequined clutches, things she will never wear or use again. She lives with my brother in Jamaica now, a tiny person looking out at the hills from her recliner. Those beautiful dresses would fall off her shoulders. I am told that church ladies in the rural areas will welcome the dresses, and that is a relief. I'd rather give away my mother's precious possessions than sell or discard them. Some things I will bring back to New York with me. My brother will take other things. We'll then need to arrange repairs and cleaning that will get the house ready for renting. Which will be tricky. Being an absentee landlord is always complicated—and expensive. Our children, who spent summers with my mother in that house when they were growing up, are very against our selling the house, and yet if we are successful in renting it, we wouldn't be able to visit and stay there anyway. It's in a prime location, right across the street from that idyllic beach in the photo above, but the house itself is old, and there's no telling how much it will cost to bring it to where it needs to be, and whether we will be able to afford it. We have a lot of decisions coming up. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.



14 comments:

  1. Been there, done that, as the saying goes. Fifteen years ago today my mother passed away. She was 59 and the hell that can be packing up a life ensued, largely because of her dysfunctional siblings...

    I wish you well with what can be both a painful and poignant process and may you and your brother share the sweetness of memories,

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    1. e, thank you for this good wish. my brother and i are good friends, so i think we can make it sweet and poignant, rather than bitter and poignant. xo

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  2. Sometimes it seems as if it all never ends, although I'm not sure what "it" means other than life, in all its messiness and glory.

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    1. Elizabeth, there is always the next thing and the next. My mother says I am to cherish the business because i will miss it when i am her age. I am trying to take her advice, but its not always easy! Hugs.

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  3. I haven't yet been through this myself, so I can't offer any practical advice. But I imagine it's like any large process, a matter of going step by step as time unfolds to help guide you along. You know?

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    1. Steve, one foot in front of the other, yes. Just do the next thing and then the next. Very good advice!

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  4. i have had my turn, more than once, with this kind of packing up, and i must say that in the end, the process can be a soothing ritual. you are forced to slow down, contemplate...each item has its embedded aura...a set of memories that you can't help but inhale and make a part of you. i know many people face this stage with dread, but in my experience that has not how it has played out. let your tactile senses have free rein, and with luck, the mind will sit back in an easy chair and let it just happen. it's hard work for the body, maybe, but we know how to work; i know you do, angella. good luck with this journey.

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    1. Susan, what a beautiful way to think about this work. I will keep your wisdom in mind, and stay open to and grateful for the experience. Love to you, dear friend.

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  5. I have never had to do this, my parents did it when they made the decision years ago to move into a retirement home. It was still very emotional for me, my parents literally built the house when I was a toddler, right next door to the house (then torn down) where my father was born and raised. It's still disorienting to think of someone else owning it.

    I love what susan said above, and I hope your experience is a soothing ritual. Your brother sounds so thoughtful, and I know you are too. I wish you both well.

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    1. ellen, when my parents moved from jamaica to the eastern caribbean, they packed up my childhood home, for which this blog is named, and it was so disorienting to me, even though i knew i would never again live there. i wonder how my mother feels knowing that the house she spent her last decades in will now be emptied of her possessions. It must indeed be disorienting.

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  6. Angella, I'm so sorry to hear about your mother. And I'm sorry I've been away and am just reading all this now. Pat's grandfather passed away last two weeks ago and although he was getting weaker and weaker and the family knew it was close, it doesn't make it any easier. I am sending out love and hoping your mom is always by the sea. How could she ever leave such a place?
    xoxo

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    1. Dear Rachel, I hope I didnt leave you with the impression that my mother has passed. She has simply moved from one island to another to live with my brother, as she can no longer manage on her own. So we are going to St. Lucia to pack up her home and possibly get it rented. It feels very strange to be doing this work while she is still alive, but she is anxious for us to get it done. So off we go. Thank you for the kind words. My mother dreams of the sea even now, sitting in her recliner and sometimes she even hallucinates that she is in the water itself. I will write about that sometime. Much love, dear friend.

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    2. oh god, Angella! I'm so so sorry! I just read your post from this morning about NYC and feel awful for even suggesting it! I'm so embarrassed. This is where my mind has been these past few weeks - absent. Forgive me, friend. I am so glad to hear your mother is well. Take care on your visit. xoxo

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  7. Dear Rachel, no worries at all. It's not even a thing. Your comment came from a place of caring, and please know how much I appreciate that. Also, I can see how you could get confused. Packing up a life usually is done at the end of that life. My mother's circumstance is less usual. In any case, it's all good. Hugs.

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