It comes and goes, ebbs and flows. There are a lot of books on grief, but the process is so individualized. Sometimes, it just simply hits out of nowhere — a memory, a comment, someone asks the wrong question — and the floodgate is opened.

Recently, my siblings and I had to move and pack up our family home, right after mom died in the midst of a pandemic. The emotion it evokes as we avoided certain tasks, because the simplest task —sweeping the floor — could remind us of mom. I would sit, some days, as I packed my mother’s belongings, taking dresses off hangers. I would say out loud to myself, “This is so fucked up.” It was my mantra.

I was alone in the quiet, taking my time holding my mother’s things, remembering, smiling, laughing and often crying silently. Moving and dividing one’s belongings is a whole other grief process that I was not prepared to do.

Dad was very anxious about packing, so we siblings would joke that we had to go in the morning; Darby would say before 2 pm. I would stay for an hour, as this length of time seemed just enough. Sometimes I brought one of my kids as a buffer, in case he started getting grouchy. Nothing like a grandchild to soften him, hopefully.

I learned, even as an adult child, to go and cherish that hour, to move at his pace and his agenda. I decided to find humor and gain knowledge in his long stories about what seemed like the smallest most useless item, one that I most likely would throw away. I surrendered here, to shift my perspective and see the item through his eyes.

You see, my father was a collector of everything — big and small. His system of packing was interesting and very methodical. He would take ten items that he had “collected” through the years and place them in a box top, and we would sit and sort. Being a “professional collector,” he did not always want to part with anything; he was very attached and always had a story about where the item came from, whether it was a family member or someone else’s family (he often bought the contents of other people’s homes in the appraisal business).

I have always thought that I got my mother’s genes, in that I hate clutter. If it doesn’t bring me joy, then toss it. In this time with dad, though, we moved slowly through each item, as he explained what it was. As he picked up an egg-shaped wooden object, he’d say, “Now you know what this was used for, Char? It was for darning socks.” (Why he had it, I have no idea, because he surely wasn’t darning any socks). But he loved the story and the history.

I realize I have the sentimental collector in me. I like certain items that I am sure my kids would toss, but I love, because they bring a happy memory of someone or something and are interesting.

We all have a little collector in us. Thanks, Dad.


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