I have been purging my house of clothing, books, junk, and rubbish. The purge commenced after my mother’s death in February 2016. I felt the need to bag up her belongings and donate them to charity. I could not be one of those people who keeps the deceased’s bedroom intact, clothes hung in closet, mystery books on the shelf, and so on, as if she had never died. Some people find preserving the room of a loved one comforting; I find that a purge reassures me. I touch my mother’s belongings once more and say goodbye.
Tomorrow the junk men come to haul away her dresser, night table, and the ancient sofa from her bedroom. I have wanted to get rid of that sofa for years – 1970s “fun fur” nearly bald – but my mom had insisted we keep it. “The cats like to sleep on it,” she said. But Monday it goes.
I will only keep the bed and the television. The bed is nearly new and completely clean. I think it’s a great bed but she hated it. It’s hard to buy a bed for someone who can’t come with you to the store. She was very sick in the last year of her life, when the old bed she’d been sleeping on finally broke, after slowly collapsing over a period of months into the bedframe. My mother could not cast off much with ease, not beds or clothes or cars, until they were unusable. One of her cars fell into itself much like the bed did, although the car, shifting on its frame, was decades ago. Her shoes and slippers were always holed with the souls worn thin. My mother was a fashionista out in the world, when she could still get out into the world, wearing fancy, fun, shiny, and sometimes crazy clothes. But in the house, she clung to the old and known. She hated the unfamiliar bed. It’s a Laura Ashley with a pillow top, firm but soft, too.
“It’s too high,” she’d said after pretending for a few weeks she liked it so as not to hurt my feelings. “I feel as though I’ll fall out of it.” And as she got sicker she did fall out of it, or rather, she slid off of it as she tried to get up to hobble to the bathroom. I discouraged use of the potty that Hospice had left beside her bed, as I couldn’t bear to empty and clean it. I found her next to the potty in complete darkness on the night I made her leave home. Her back against the bed and the floor lamp, the back of her head stiff and low against the wall, impossibly angled down, as if someone had glued her head to her shoulder. It’s hard to believe someone could spend an entire day in that position. She didn’t have the strength to move at all, never mind get back on the bed. She’d spent the day peeing on the floor. Once again, she had refused to press the alert button that would have summoned me home.
“I’m calling an ambulance,” I said.
She cried, “No!!!, I’m not going anywhere tonight!”
I screamed, “Yes, you are!”
She screamed, “Just give me my shoes and I can get up!”
This was not true; it was one of her delirious thoughts. The week before she had insisted the landline phone could not make callouts correctly, as she had tried to dial her credit card account number rather than the phone number. I demonstrated several times that the phone worked perfectly but she couldn’t believe that, had in fact, forgotten how to dial a phone. There she was in that strange, twisted pose, all day on the floor. She had to go. But she was my mother, and I didn’t want her to leave me, so I tried to pick her up to get her back on the bed, get her to her feet, to keep her home, but every time I touched her to try to lift her, she screamed in fear and pain. And I screamed back in the same way.
“I’m calling an ambulance!”
“No, Cindy, Cindy!!!!!”
And then I went outside so I wouldn’t have to hear her. When I went back in, she was still screaming my name. It was the most desperate sound, “CINDY, CINDY, CINDY,” as if I’d shoved her off a life raft. I went back outside after screaming again, “The firemen will be here soon!”
In addition to the bed and the television, I also saved her black and gold sequined dress outfit that she wore to my brother’s wedding in 1986. She wore it for other occasions, too, like her 50th high school reunion. The last movie we watched together before she died was Rentacop with Burt Reynolds and Liza Minelli because she wanted to show me that Liza had worn her outfit in the movie. I kept my mother’s ratty, ripped red sweater she’d worn for the last two years to keep her bony body warm.
Since February, I have bagged up approximately 75 green garbage bags of her stuff and a few things of mine. By green garbage bags I mean those enormous ones for lawn and leaves. Yesterday, I threw a good 300 pounds of books from 10 garbage bags into the book donation box at the Ahavath Torah synagogue parking lot. I have donated nearly $2,000 worth of clothes, from items ranging from $2 to $10, so hundreds of shirts, blouses, shoes, skirts, dresses, and so on. I buried her in a smart black and purple dress that I remembered her wearing in her younger days. So that item of clothing was not donated.
Some of her things still lurk in the nooks and crannies of my house, more clothing stuffed into the third bedroom closet, including some winter coats. More sweatshirts and slacks folded long ago into plastic storage drawers when it seemed to matter to hold onto these things. Her room is empty, but it seems there are always more spaces to purge.
Post script: the next day.
The junk guys came, and I leaned against the arm of the living room chair as I watched them haul heavy furniture downstairs: that fun fur sofa from when I was nine years old and living on Bay Road, my mother’s dresser and night table, purchased when I was thirteen when we moved to the condo in Knollsbrook, and the desk and bookcase she bought for me the same year, knowing I was a kid who loved books and writing. I nearly cried as they moved all this ancient, junky furniture out of the house. I hated the furniture, but the decades marching out the front door reminded me of the lifetime that had passed.