I’m calling Mum’s friends – Judy says, “She was the most interesting person I ever met.” Antoinette tells me that she gave Mum piano lessons – “She was so musical,” – and that when the famous soprano Elly Ameling sang in Edmonton, the reception for her was held in my parents’ house. “Elegant, beautiful, gracious,” are the words they use to describe my mother.
I use those words too, but also, right now, I use the words “pack rat.” I don’t think my mother ever threw anything out; nothing, not a piece of junk mail, a ten year old calendar, nothing. I know, she grew up in a family with very little money and then survived the Blitz in London and rationing; there was never enough, after that. She kept things, or else she bought new things just like the old things that she couldn’t find in the jumble. I just found a bag filled with all her old lipsticks, and a box of perfumes from sixty years ago; the drawer beside her bed was filled not just with half-empty creams and old bottles of medication, but the instructions from all the medications, going back 10 years. She kept every one. But most of all – I kept finding caches of knee hi stockings. Bags and bags and bags and bags.
There is a lesson for me here, incipient pack rat that I am, with lipsticks I don’t use in my bathroom. As soon as I get home, they’re out. There are 4 large garbage bags by the door here. And a stack of 29 pairs of pants, that I’ll take downstairs to the recycling room and leave for people to go through. They do that here.
In terms of other clothes, we got rid of a hefty lot yesterday – Aunt Do happily took two huge suitcases back to her place, and when Mum’s caregiver Nancy came for a cup of tea, I invited her to take a look. I said, “Do you know anyone with big feet?” Yes, she did – a whole family of tall women. Nancy took all the shoes! A miracle. Many pairs still in their boxes. It made me sad – my poor mother with her giant feet, dreaming of and buying pretty shoes not quite big enough, that she could never wear. I hope the new owners enjoy them. Nancy also took a lot of sweaters and medical paraphernalia. Much more to come.
I’ve realized that we need help with this. I’m going to hire someone to do it with me, following with garbage bags and boxes. Mum’s storage room is full to the brim. I can’t even bear to look inside.
Nancy was the last close person to see Mum, at dinnertime on Christmas eve. “She was comfortable,” she said, “but she told me she was very tired.” It was good to hear that. She was tired, and she let go.
Last night, her two friends in the building, Una and May, came for dinner with me and Do. It was strange, entertaining Mum’s friends in her apartment without her, but Una and May are my friends now, too. We toasted and talked about her and had a wonderful time. They’re both too small for her clothes, but I invited them to look at her exotic collection of scarves, and they left swathed – May in a red pashmina poncho Mum had never worn, a variety of others draped about her neck. My mother will be remembered far and wide when her friends put on her lovely things.
And I found a photo album this morning I’d never seen before – pix of my dad as a boy, of me as a baby, my brother. Mum so young. So long ago. So beautiful, elegant, gracious.
Swirling snow in the bleak grey light. Yesterday was sunny but bitter – minus seventeen with a wind that cut to the bone. Today, winter continues. I hope to get home this afternoon, to celebrate New Year’s Eve chez moi. What a year 2012 was – a most important birth, a most important death. I pray 2013 will be less portenteous.
PS Moments of laughter. Just opened one of Mum’s desks to find a large margarine pot stuffed to the brim with old keys. On the lid, a label that shows my mother’s attempt at organization. “Keys galore!!” it says.