My mother, who resides in Wisconsin and I flew to Charlotte, North Carolina to begin the process of downsizing my aunts belongings. We are a small family; I only have one aunt on my mother’s side and only one cousin. Mom and I had talked for years about our desire to be a part of this process.
We arrived at this all too familiar home in the early evening. It was the only residence that I recall my aunt living. I knew it would be stuffy, but after entering the front door, stuffy would have been paradise. This wasn’t our only discovery, throughout my relationship with my aunt, I would have described her as messy; the proper term now is hoarder. The house had sat empty for three years and for the three years prior to that was rarely lived in. I had hoped that by opening all the windows and doors we could eliminate some of the musty, dampness. Clearly I had forgotten what summer is like in Charlotte. If the temperature is 85 the humidity is 90.
Mom and I spent the first three days alone with no hot water, no air conditioning, swatting moths, sinus pressure, coughing and occasional wheezing. We had brought face masks which helped a little. We wore gloves to avoid touching the webs that had collected. We laughed as we made comments about our choice of vacation spots.
In the past few months, I have made it my goal to understand the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. As I made one of my many runs down the hill to the, not big enough dumpster, I heard myself say, “I’m living Ecclesiastes.” Vanity, striving after the wind, building up treasures that will be turned over to someone else, I had new insight.
Prior to our arrival, we had envisioned those special items that if acquired would represent fond memories of years past. Those visions changed after seven days of coughing, sinus pressure, upset stomachs, sleepless nights, cold showers and moths. What we had once thought would allow joyous memories now created sadness for a life not shared. How more meaningful it would have been to have giving these treasures away while there was life enough to see them being enjoyed.
We have a choice on how we walk through life, we can either do it with our hands clenched, holding on to all our belongings OR we can walk through life with our hands wide open allowing for life to flow through us. Either way, life will end and at the end there will be someone who will be left with the task of what remains.
What I experienced this week was seeing the remains of a life lived with hands clenched. What once was beautiful turned ugly. What once was desired turned to dust. Life is meant to be lived, it is meant to recreate life. By clenched hands, one only stops that flow and in turn stops life.
As we come to the end of this adventure, both Mom and I have a new perspective. We now have new memories that we will cherish. They will not be recalled because we hold an object in our hands or because we have acquired an old treasure. They are mental pictures of my 82 year old mother in her old lady night gown, robe and slippers wearing a gas mask; leaning against the wall laughing hysterically at an old joke about the Eiffel tower; picking up valuable items and wondering if we could hide them in our suitcase; joking about what we would do if we found a wad of cash and of course planning our next exciting vacation.
Thanks Mom for learning to live with your hands wide open…and the two boxes you claim are all we need to deal with after you are gone, will be well cared for.