Friday, August 16, 2013

for LiVEwiRe

Reading what you said, in the response to my condolences on the loss of your grandmother, about how you opened the fridge door, saw 'her' food and started crying; and when you received her post and started crying ... that really struck a chord.  I couldn't face looking at my mother's things for a very long time.  It was really hard when we were packing and going through things to 'chuck away' leading up to us moving from South Africa. Even though I had a lot of time to do it in stages, I put it off until the last minute.  And when I did start going through her things, I realised that it was 2 years since she'd died.

I had a storage unit (the size of a single garage) a few kilometres from where I lived that I was paying rental on each month and it was filled, for the most part, with my mum's furniture and belongings.  Boxes and boxes of all the little things and big things that were the stuff of her life.  These things she'd collected and moved from house to house in over 80 years on this planet.  Things that I helped her pack in a huge hurry back in the early part of 2010 when we made the decision that she had to move from Hermanus to be closer to me. 

Her furniture and boxes were brought up from the Cape in a large removal van and arrived a few days after she came to live with us in Gauteng.  She came with me the day the stuff arrived to oversee some of the precious expensive furniture pieces being installed in the storage unit.   I had every belief, at that stage, that she would live for at least another 5 or 10 years and that all of her items would eventually be re-housed in a new place of her own up in Gauteng ... of course that wasn't to be.  Within 3 months of arriving from Hermanus to live with us in Jo'burg (Edenvale) she was gone from this earth.

The clothes that I took to the hospital for her, were placed in a bag and given back to me when we went back to the hospital to collect her death certificate.  I only discovered those things when we were going through the boxes about a month before we left South Africa. They still had her scent on them!  I remember standing in our garage at home, after opening the box (which we'd now moved from the storage unit to our house) and holding those clothes and crying my eyes out for a very long time.  It seemed a sacrilege to me when one of my daughter's suggested that we threw the things away or put it with jumble.  Some irrational part of my mind just closed off to that idea, I couldn't bear the thought of someone else having those clothes.  So I took them with me to my room and they stayed in the corner, until the day we left and only then was I able to put them in the rubbish bin (I still wasn't prepared to let anyone else have them).  If I could have had my way, I probably would have brought them with me in my case because they still had a faint residue of her scent on them.  How ridiculous is that? 

Most of my mother's things have been distributed to other members of the family, sold or simply thrown away ... like broken old kitchen bins, containers for potted plants, bits and scraps of material or wools.  Sometimes I would drive out to the storage unit with the best of intentions, grim with determination, only to get to the first box open it up and burst into tears.  That happened a lot of times.  With each thing that was thrown away, I felt an enormous sense of guilt, like I was deliberately throwing away a part of her that I would never get back ... it was such a crazy, unrealistic feeling but so primal and strong. 

The things that I've managed to hang onto that belonged to my mother, are not really heirlooms or things of great value, they were just things that for some reason didn't end up being sold. Some of the things that really remind me of my mother I no longer have, they have been sold or given away and I'm sad about that but you just can't hang on to everything.   And one of the most precious things that I have is worthless to anyone else - it's handwritten (in pen ink, using a nib pen) cookery/domestic science book that my mother wrote when she was at school, with recipes in and drawings - so it was 'composed' during the 1930's.  The front cover has come off and it's covered in grease, flour, egg stains ... but I wouldn't part with it for the world, it speaks to me, it takes me back to a time when I was a little girl and she was baking cakes, covered in flour and smelling of hot pastry.  

It takes a very long time, I've come to realise, to get back to any degree of 'normal' and be in a position to move the grieving into a place where it's manageable.  So you take your time, girl. Don't feel in any way pushed into sorting yourself out ... allow yourself as much time as you want. 


  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I find so many parallels with things we've both experienced. My journey is still in the beginning stages, but is exceedingly difficult because I'm in the same house that I used to share with her.

    What you said about things with her scent, I get that. And yes, I feel crazy amounts of guilt, even when I'm throwing something away that really isn't usable.

    It's hard being in this house, but I can't imagine leaving quite yet. And when that time comes, I will want to take so much of her stuff with me; like you, I have a hard time thinking of someone else having these things. I can't imagine how you must've felt when you were faced with *having* to make that choice to consciously get rid of things when you moved back north.

    The book that you have ~ that is kind of a magical thing in and of itself; something that is truly a part of her on so many levels. Surely you will continue to cherish that forever.

    Thank you for sharing your story and your insight. She was my grandmother but more like a mother. She raised me for many years, kept me safe when things weren't. In the later years, the roles reversed but we maintained a close bond, even on those days we were at odds. It's a life altering experience to be sure and there are moments when I can't seem to catch my breath when I think about it.

    Your words have been a comfort to me, and I hope, in some way, it helped you to write them. Much love to you, my friend.

  2. Hey sweetie, thanks for thoughts, I'm thinking of you and know that you will get stronger each day.