Mom and I are collectors of all kinds of things. Books, knick-knacks, letters and cards, photos, jewelry. You name it, we probably have it in our homes. Mom taught me to reuse before recycling or repurposing was cool. When I scroll through Pintrest or Hometalk websites, I often see “new” ideas that have been at Mom’s house forever. We both have too much stuff, too many possessions.
I can remember shopping at Goodwill when we lived in Minnesota in the 70’s. This was way before thrift shopping was a chic thing! The thrill of the bargain was our “shopper’s high” and a wonderful way for us connect. I miss going to the thrift stores with Mom. She just cannot manage the lights and noise and chaos any longer. I still shop there; in fact, more than 80% of my clothing/accessories/home décor has come from Circle of Hope, Habitat for Humanity, or Sharing and Caring. You never know what you might find!
Although Mom has always enjoyed her things, I’ve noticed lately that sometimes she doesn’t recognize her possessions anymore. She doesn’t know that it’s her bed. Or her clothes. She gets confused about being in her house. More often than not, she thinks her house, her clothes, her things are my house, clothes, and things. I am amused when she asks me about the history of this or that. If I know where or when she bought it, I’ll tell her the story. If not, I’ll ask Dad and if he doesn’t know, I’ll make up something.
She has always been attracted to shiny things. When I was little, she would let me “organize” her costume jewelry and now she organizes and reorganizes it. (I wrote about her obsession with her accessories here.) When we would go to the thrift shops, she would look through the jewelry and knick-knacks and buy whatever caught her eye. Dad would get frustrated when we’d bring home treasures but I would remind him that these were like our “fishing” trips – everyone needs a hobby!
I thought she would always remember her things. She’ll recognize something one day and the next will want to know where all this stuff came from. She’ll ask to go home or say she’s ready to leave. She’ll pack her purse full to overflowing with tissues, jewelry, combs, and lipsticks and announce that it’s time for someone to take her to her house. In those moments, I often wonder what house she wants to go to, her childhood home or one of the dozens she shared with Dad during their years in the service. When I counter that this is her home, the one that she built with Dad in 1977, she needs to know specifics. Who built it? Where is it located? Who else lives here?
Photographs will placate her but only temporarily. After all, someone could have brought her photos here and set them up to make it look like her house. She has no idea why someone would try to trick her like that but it isn’t very nice! Thankfully these moments are random and she can eventually be persuaded to stay here. I know from dealing with dementia that things might change one day. I dread the day she cannot be enticed to stay. Although Mom hasn’t ever been rude or ugly to me, she can turn on the tears and be quite pitiful. I find it difficult – but not impossible – to get Mom to do what she doesn’t want to do. Dad, on the other hand, struggles mightily and gives up. He simply cannot take her tears.
So once again, even as I am writing about Mom, I am thinking of Dad. This is the home they built together and she doesn’t know it. These possessions that they have acquired don’t bring memories to her. And what are the meanings of things if you don’t have someone with whom to share them?
These are tough days. Many of you have already been through this and had to sort through decades of memories associated with the homes of grandparents or parents or spouses. Somedays I wonder how we’ll ever get through this season. I know that this season will pass. I appreciate you, our community of strength and companions in sorrow. Thank you for being more important than any of our possessions.