OT: Fourth advent, sorting

For lovers of Steeleye Span who don’t mind a cover: Architect’s husband sent me this link for the holidays. Song for the third Sunday in Advent.


Since last week.

All Monday I grade; all Tuesday I grade. Not with very much discipline and with a great deal of aggravation, but every single word has been read (again) and evaluated and added and averaged and the “submit” button pushed. Monday night we have dinner and Dad informs me of his future plans. Tuesday, I went to the movies.

Wednesday I have to sort. Have to.

There are three areas that have to get done this visit — mom’s stuff in their bedroom, the stuff stored in my old bedroom, and the stuff in my brother’s old bedroom (now the office / computer / craft room). If possible, I also need to sort through the kitchen.

I start with my bedroom, which is so piled full of stuff that one can’t really walk into it. This is the consequence of the rush house cleaning last summer — things just got put into it, and it looks like my father put a bunch of things from the hospital and rehab phases in on top of everything else.

So I start with the stuff next to the door — a massive stash of yarn, but I know it’s probably only a third of what is stored all over the house. The nieces are supposed to inherit all the craft stuff. I pick through it, toss out the loose ends, sort, rewind, rewrap. Until I get to the plastic bag with the bright red scarf she was knitting for me from her hospital bed. I knew it was there. It stops me in my tracks. I put that back in its bag and set it aside and decide to attack something else.

I take a break and do a little Richarding and reblogging.

Trashy novels. There are dozens — my sister-in-law is supposed to get them. I don’t have any interest, and I don’t even look at the titles very closely, although I do sort out “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” for myself. I laugh again about the secret foibles of my mother, the upright church lady. But no problem. Puzzles. Something like fifty. I pause a little when I run across the one we did before her hysterectomy but it’s okay. I put them in boxes for donation to the thrift where she got them.

A corner of the room is now basically clear. I pause for a drink. I do a little more Richarding.

I head toward the edge of the traversible corner of the room; the next thing is a pile of white bags. The hospital sent her home every time (over something like eight hospitalizations over the course of two years) with a white plastic bag with PERSONAL EFFECTS emblazoned on it in big blue letters. A lot of the same things are in these bags. Talcum powder. Pamphlets and devotionals from church and the business cards of the pastors who visited her. A lot of those — I need to remember to call them all and thank them for their attention to mom. Discharge papers with various directions, all of which can be tossed. Six half finished crocheting projects, which I wrap and put in the box with the yarn.

And then. Uch.

Last year, after Christmas but before New Year’s Day, she had a chemo appointment that I went to with her. She was tired afterwards but she insisted we go to the fabric store to look at reduced Christmas prints. She wanted to sew a new tree skirt. She bought a quarter yard of about six different things, and I remember reminiscing with her about all of the trips we made to the fabric store when I was a girl.

“As soon as I’ve done with chemo,” she said at the time. “I need to get crafting again. I’m getting a bit bored with crocheting and knitting. I mean, it’s fine if I can’t do anything else except watch the IV bags go down.”

Oh, mom.

I gave up and went to the bookstore.

Thursday, I said to myself, you have to get more of this done. Dad finds four more boxes of yarn for me to look through; he takes out the puzzles and the novels and reminds me not to forget the hall closets. He thinks that the lady from the warming shelter who’s been flirting with him at church really wants the coats and not him. Oh, yeah, the hall closets. Well, that shouldn’t be hard.

It’s actually okay. I pause a bit when I find a stash of Christmas presents for the nieces, including a blank book called “My Grandmother” — it looks like the girls were supposed to ask mom questions about her life and write down the answers. Deep breaths. But as I go onward, I find my brother’s jean jacket from high school and his Boy Scout shirt, my dad’s army dress uniform, and ten very warm winter coats in six different women’s sizes. The warming shelter lady will be happy.

Why six sizes?

My mother was an aggressive yo-yo dieter her whole life. (I could say a great deal about this in relationship to her death, but I’m still so angry about that aspect of it that I can’t calm my fingers down enough to write it.) Part of the reason there are so many clothes to sort through is that she kept the most significant pieces of a separate wardrobe for each size.

I start on the closet in my old bedroom. Big mistake. This is mostly stuff she sewed. Her wedding dress is here, which she made; the dress she sewed for my brother’s wedding — in shocking pink magenta. Granny dresses from the seventies. The matching outfits she sewed for my dad and herself when he was stationed in Hawaii, in late 1960s Hawaiian print fabric. The cashmere sweater my father gave her the winter after they graduated from high school. Her t-shirt from Badger Girls’ State. I can’t make myself look at this stuff. Yet.

Richarding. Then there’s a new message. I’m overjoyed that he’s thanking Annette, but the rest? Yes, life is basically lengthy and interminable. I already knew that, I’m feeling it especially deeply today, and it’s not uplifting. For once, Richard Armitage has not said the right thing at the right time. Oh, well, no one’s perfect. Maybe it will all seem different from the perspective of a different year. I’ll be able to think about the “rest” part of it, then, maybe. Or something. Maybe I’ll remember today differently. I don’t really believe that part of it, either.

Or tomorrow. I’ve gotten through a lot of bad moments repeating Scarlett O’Hara’s final lines of Gone with the Wind, so I promise myself to try again the next day.

Except Friday is just as bad. We have a holiday lunch with my mother’s boss at her office, and reminisce, and she’s wearing a scarf my mother knit for her. Ms. Boss misses mom, too, badly enough that she hasn’t found a satisfactory replacement and the lack of someone she can live with as her assistant is causing problems. She jokingly offers me mom’s job. I give her a hug. Sigh. We come home, and I keep blogging all day in order to avoid the task. The blog flips 2,500,000 views. Astounding. I even put together a Legenda, which always eats a few hours. Eventually, my father leaves for the annual Christmas party of his friend. I tell him to call if he’s too drunk to drive home, but he scoffs. And then I know I have no choice, because otherwise I’ll spend the whole night worrying about whether he’ll make it home.

I decide to try her side of her bedroom. This goes reasonably well. There are plenty of things I don’t recognize. The warming shelter gets a pile of thick sweaters. Socks and exercise clothes go quickly into a box along with work outfits for Goodwill or the battered women’s shelter. I find the blouse she wore to my college graduation, and the baby afghan and patchwork quilt she made for my brother, and these are all good memories. I still have to look at every piece (my sister-in-law is supposed to get some of these, and I want some things in my size), but I get three solid boxes of things sorted out for my father to take to various dropoffs. I look through all her shoes and pick out three pair to keep and consign the rest to donation.

All these sizes make me so sad, somehow, all these clothes from over all the years, her favorites in every size saved “just in case” they would fit again some day. Mom, I want to say, you were wonderful at any size. Why did you care about this so much?

Closet emptied. Doors shut.

The nightstand. Her Bible and hymnal we took out already and wrapped to give to the nieces as Christmas presents. Sifting through the dregs, I find several crossword puzzle books and sexual aids for the post-menopausal woman (I’m unsurprised, so not creepy, pace the comments of recent columnists; my parents’ sex lives were relatively transparent to me).

What I wish I hadn’t found: a book/pamphlet called “Share New Life with a Jew,” and a notebook. Suddenly, I wonder if my father knew this was here, and wanted me to see it? Or if he just truly hasn’t been able to sort out her stuff? The book is a discussion of “how Jews think” and what you have to do to make Christianity appealing to them. Us, I remind myself, shaking my head. In the notebook, there’s nothing in it except a list, dated the spring of 2012, of arguments she could make to me to persuade me to convert back to Christianity. Number one on the list — so we can be in heaven together.

Just when I had come to the conclusion that she had almost accepted me as I was, even if she wasn’t happy about it.

Pastor built a reference to Judaism into her funeral, and I think of telling him afterwards that I wasn’t sure mom would have agreed and of him telling me that he thought she had changed her mind about that. Well, she never said. All the Bible reading at her bedside flashes through my mind. She was still hoping. She was. He was just saying that because he thought I’d never find out. This is how Christianity has always worked out for you, I remind myself bitterly. A beautiful story, devoid of meaning. There is no heaven, and your mother lived, and now she is dead.

She died hoping. Would it have mattered if I had known that? I don’t think so, I can’t imagine being anything other than what I became, as flawed as the person I became is.

A fuse flips off inside me and I’m done. Dad isn’t home but I don’t care. I leave the front door unlocked to avoid a repeat of last year and shut off all the lights except the yard and front entry and go to bed. And sob. Mom, oh, Mom, until I fall asleep. If Dad comes home drunk, I don’t hear it.

Saturday morning I get up and I decide to tell Dad I just can’t do anymore. There are several big boxes of things in the living room, and he ignores my statement, and asks me what he can take where, and carts it off in the truck. I sit on the sofa and watch the snow fall and stew.

He comes back and says, “I’m so glad you’re doing this, honey, I’d just have to throw all this stuff out, I can’t look at it.”

I spend most of the day writing a spoof to burn off some rage. I get my period. I de-ice my car and drive to a drugstore for the needfuls. I decide to go to bed. I sleep so deeply that when I wake up — dad’s calling me for church — I’m lying in a puddle of blood. Shit.

So now it’s Sunday and we have to go to church even though it’s snowing like crazy (we’ll have gotten eight inches by the time it stops). Why can’t we stay home during a snowfall like any normal family? I am resentful and hateful and I am. not. listening. We sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and I rage inside. It is Rorate Sunday, after Isaiah 45:8, and that’s what I want, the heavens to drop down upon us all. The snow seems inadequate to my anger.

We come home, and read the paper, and then dad says, pseudo-helpfully — I pulled some more boxes down off the shelves for you.

I honestly don’t know how much more I can take.

I open the first box and it’s filled with clothes that she sewed for me. In all the sizes I wore from the ages of about six until I was fourteen, when she more or less quit sewing my clothes. The costume she sewed for the first grade Bicentennial play (I was a doe). My purple Easter dress from third grade and the yellow Easter dress from fifth grade and the beautiful plaid wool skirt she made for my sixth grade piano recital, cut on the bias, all the stripes carefully matched, with a deep maroon wool sweater she knitted to match.

I curse my memory. If I were my father, I wouldn’t be able to identify any of this stuff, I’d have forgotten it all. I’d have tossed it.

I am the one who cannot toss it.

These clothes are beautifully made — oddly, she didn’t pass them on to Architect’s mother, which is where most of my too-small clothes went — so they must have meant something special to her. To me, too, they mean something special. Did she think someone else would wear them? The nieces?

Oh, mom. My sobbing never gets any more specific than that. Forgive me. For not having been better at everything, all along. For not having been the person you wished I’d turned out to be. For not being better at this, now.

~ by Servetus on December 23, 2013.

25 Responses to “OT: Fourth advent, sorting”

  1. ((hugs)) I’m sorry it’s been such a taxing week – I’m sure being cooped up in the snow hasn’t helped. I can probably sneak away from the last bit of grading for coffee tomorrow if you need a break…let me know.


  2. Hugs, honey. You keep talking till you’re talked out and we’ll listen in the silence, too.


  3. My mom sewed my clothes until I was in Jr. High too. Until the year I absolutely refused to wear anything except a store bought pair of Carpenter corduroys. Black. Perfect. I wore them every day except Tuesday which was dress up day. They were rags by the time summer rolled around. The fights we had about that pair of pants.

    You accomplished so much since you arrived, don’t lose sight of that. A piece at a time. A closet. A room. A sigh of relief.


    • I think it was the end of junior high when she stopped sewing most of my clothes, but I don’t remember that we had a dustup about it. By then she had taught me to sew as well although I didn’t sew much …

      the nicest thing is knowing I will never see the stuff that we give away again. All the stuff from the hospital sealed in a box and maybe someone else can use it. Two dozen of those grey traction socks with the little white rubber crosses on the soles.


  4. I have a toothache in my heart for you, Serv. Sending you loads of love & comfort. If it’s not too presumptuous of me to say (and profuse apologies if it is) I think you are coping very well. What you’re dealing with is so hard. One breath at a time, one foot in front of the other. Hang in there.


  5. This is a hard part that you have to deal with. When we had to get my dad’s stuff moved out of his apartment in 2007, I tossed stuff out and gave away thing I now know I shouldn’t have. I had left my mom’s stuff there until then. For the past two and half years I have had a trash bag full of my dad’s clothes that he could no longer wear in the truck of my car. It is still there and don’t know what to do with them, I do know just can’t do it yet. Same goes for my dad’s ashes, they are sitting on a chair in my living room and mostly likely will stay there to at least spring. I had the nursing home keep the clothes and books he had there, just took his belt pictures and Bible.

    Enjoyed the video, as much as I listen to Depeche Mode, I had never listen to Erasure until this. In fact I have the first DM cd playing right now with Vince Clarke.

    Thinking of you and (((HUGS))).


  6. Take care of yourself (((Serv))):*


  7. You have been the best way for your mom, purpose, friend and dear daughter. I send you a warm embrace and with tears in my eyes, my best encouraging and strengthening wishes.
    My strong belief is, that heaven would be busy and narrow minded, if it had to re-build frontieres we artificially build here on earth. While I fortunately think of heaven as being free of our self-imposed narrow-mindedness.


  8. I own this CD and have been playing it often this season. Helps bring me back to the beloved music of my misspent 80’s. 😉

    Many hugs and positive thoughts your way, Serv.


  9. I am with you with all my soul! I never knew how I survived losing my father and my mother is 86 and still my first and most obstinate critic. For all that, I know I have a home and the feeling of home, because of her and I am forever grateful for that! I wish you could find solace in something, of course, as many of us do, in a way, in this powerful connection, should I say obsession? with RA… May I gently disagree with you on one point? The message was for you, too. Remember the lines from Uncle Vania? Not his words but what powerful message! It says: Hang on! Don’t give up! And you don’t! You wrote that funny piece yesterday about the gravy, that is so hilarious I want to save it – I think I’ll create a special folder called Servetus .. thank you for that and… Hang ON!


    • Yes, I was talking with another friend about this whose relationship with her mother is also complex, and I said that when my parents told me the day I was born was the happiest day of their lives up till then I never had reason to doubt them. My mother certainly loved me deeply. It’s true, but it’s never that simple and I’m not telling you anything new if I note that any very close relationship racks up its history of sore spots. The religion problem was one of two or three extreme conflict points between my mother and me.

      I’d have to say a lot more about myself that I’ve been prepared to write on this blog to explain fully why I reacted the way I did to that quote, but no, for me it wasn’t uplifting and it was a powerful message in the wrong direction. That’s OK — Armitage wasn’t thinking, what can I say to Serv to encourage her today, when he sat down to write it. I believe what he said about his own reactions to the quotation, and I always enjoy hearing about his articulations of his worldview without having to agree with them 🙂

      I do find a lot of solace in writing. Writing spoofs always helps to burn off anger.


  10. It’s hard enough going through you mother’s belongings without having to do it during your first Christmas without her! I remember going through my Dad’s belongings after he passed away and finding his favorite shirt with his scent still lingering. The other day I was going through my closet and found the shirt again — but there’s no scent anymore.
    About a year before my dad passed away we found out his father had another family we never knew about which was a shock for all of us — especially my dad. Apparently my grandfather’s first wife died in child birth and he gave the child up for adoption to a family he knew. Sometimes I think my Dad was suppose to find out about the other family before he died so he wouldn’t be surprised later on. I have my own doubts about heaven, but I hope Sonya was right and we will hear angels and see heaven — and our loved ones.


    • I think, on the scale of things I could have found out, this wasn’t all that surprising. I probably suspected it on some level. My mother found something much more upsetting about her mother, years after she died. I don’t think mom had secrets on quite that level.

      I can’t say I hope there is an afterlife; my disbelief is too strong — but it would be nice if there were.


  11. Can’t say much right now but I want to say: Lots of hugs and love to you Servetus


  12. […] stop or just ignore it and move on. That I didn’t get tenure. That up to the end of her life, my mother was embarrassed by my conversion to Judaism and my career choice. My feelings about those things vary in intensity; periodically, especially at […]


  13. […] looked back to what I wrote last year on this Sunday and realized that things are improving at least somewhat on the grief front. Still, the only thing […]


  14. […] “still good” clothing each time. (Some of this was stuff I had set out for donation in my previous attempt to de-clutter the house, but that dad apparently couldn’t let go of.) We filled two […]


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