I finally picked out a movie and put it on. It was about death and how one navigates the life that ensues, and I only watched in bursts as I focused on sorting your boxes, but I let it play twice for good measure. The world didn’t end, you didn’t stop loving me, and I didn’t feel as guilty as expected. I felt okay having it play in the background, so I’ve seen three movies since.
You’ve got a lot of boxes, full, FULL of big papers, packets of papers, shreds of papers, folded papers, important papers, post-it notes, cards, scraps, bits, lists lists lists… it’s been fun being in your head, I feel close to you.
I curl you up around me, your To Recycle on the floor on my left hand, the To Shred just past that, all the treasured pieces for each of us loved ones To Save is circling me on the couch, and I’m suddenly enclosed in you. Enveloped by your papers, your words, your love.
My love for you so intense that it’s dripping down my face as if without purpose or place to go, it falls quietly to my pajama shirt. I bow my head and try to keep it all to myself.
I see all the hundreds of things you did for me, and for each of my siblings, and the way you managed to help my sister and I find homes and proceeded to fax, call, email, arrange the purchases of both houses, all while you were remodeling your own, ordering kitchen cabinets, finding new jeans, calling labor and industries, returning old phones, picking my child and my little sister up from school and taking to dance classes. And that was only one month of To Dos. I don’t know how you did everything for everyone in your life. You were like a miracle worker and I’m amazed at every torn piece of paper with a phone message or phone number, memory or inspirational quote. You wrote it all, your pseudo-journaling if you will. Breadcrumbs of a life that spanned exactly six decades. Love and heartbreak, backache and happiness and sadness combined. A path to who you are, of which I have found.
You were a sentimental pack rat. You have papers from your childhood, from my childhood, from my children’s childhood. You must have believed that keeping the papers and things would keep us close forever or you just assumed you’d get to cleaning them up someday. That the cleaning would be a fun trip down Memory Lane, and maybe only once, briefly, you thought that the trip might not be one you would get to take, but that your daughters, ever so responsible, would be traveling for you. Or not. Maybe you didn’t want us to see the love notes, every love note, that dad ever left you, every email that family ever sent you, birthday cards, every poem you wrote in high school. Your hopes and dreams. I don’t think you mind that much. I think you love the fact that we’re carefully reading each thought you ever had or note you ever made to remember something with. That we’re savoring them, rolling them over and over in our hands, our hearts. Your endless To Do lists that somehow ended.
Magazine articles and torn out magazine images of home deco that you lovingly made notes on; “for so and so’s living room” or “the pink and brown room” or even more specifically, “black trunk only, basement?” You could visualize every space you were ever going to create, every room you or your loved ones were going to live in, and you put time and love into each selection.
I found a quote you’d jotted down in a random notebook: “At its most creative level, decorating is theater. Part improvisation, part thoughtful preparation, but theater.” The phrase arched over me and the piles, and settled in for the rest of the afternoon.
Your handwriting is an art form. It is so beautiful, even the quickly scribbled stuff that is slanted too far to the left, you took care in each loop and line. Your cursive is breathtakingly lovely. Your capital letters divine. I have found each of the words you spoke your last night here on earth and had them forever written on my wrist this past weekend. “Don’t act small.” As soon as you said those words that night, I saw them on my arm, and I knew I would carry them with me forever. It took me a while, and I had to Photoshop them together. I love my new tattoo. There, all the time, encouraging me, forcing me into action, catapulting me into living my truth. Standing up for myself. To not act small, to not pretend that I’m all the negative things I imagine I am, but that I am just as amazing and awe-inspiring of a being as you.
I see your perfection in your words, in the way you expressed your thoughts and wanted to hold onto them for all the future what-ifs. I will treasure them as I move forward in navigating the rest of my days. Days when I watch movies of moms and daughters and death, and my eyes leak down my face and onto my shirts. When I think of you and the love you have always been, and will always be for me.
I love you mom.