The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth, —
The sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Emily Dickinson was referring to the morning after the death of a loved one, but such hustle could also refer to what happens weeks or months after a loved one dies, and the bereaved are required to sift through that loved one’s possessions.
There is no shortage of articles on how to tackle this bittersweet task. Sara Davidson in a piece in The New York Times asks, “What to do with Mother’s stuff?” which in her case too involved dispatching with a car, furnishings, and memorabilia. Following Joan Didion’s rule, she tried to follow the principle of touching an object only once, making a decision and moving on.
The most emotional aspect of cleaning out a house is sorting the belongings, says Elizabeth Weintraub in an article “Cleaning Out the House After a Death.” She suggests sorting items into three piles or tagging them with color-coded stickers: Items to keep, items to donate or sell, items to throw away. Wendy Schuman outlines “9 Tips for Cleaning Out Your Late Parent’s Home.” She remarks, “Consider the cleaning-out job a labor of love. As hard as it was, clearing out my mother’s home was the last important service I could render her . . . .”
Recently, my sisters and I said our goodbyes again and again as we sorted, reminisced, cried, but forged ahead, emptying drawers, closets, and eventually rooms.
Some discoveries are hidden. Out of sight. Others are hidden in plain view. Last week we uncovered my dad’s first grade report card from 1921-22 in a box on the upper shelf of the closet. It’s a document, really, a fancy booklet with flowing cursive penmanship. The opening page announces the teacher’s name and school, Frank R. Mauss at Washington School, like many schools of the era on the same grounds as the church, in this case Bossler’s Mennonite Church.
There are no vague S’s or U’s for satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Not even an A, B, or C. No, the grades are recorded precisely as percentages: 86% average for the first reporting period. And a 90% for behavior, not quite the teacher’s pet!
* * *
And, yes, other discoveries are hidden in plain view, like Mother’s Dodge Spirit. With 98,000 miles it’s been around the block more than once, but certainly not worthy of an antique license tag. What to do with it? After some deliberation, our sister Jean suggested we offer it to our friend Edda, a member of Bosslers’ Mennonite Church. A first-generation immigrant from Colombia, Edda is getting a foot-hold on a new life in the USA while enabling her son to get a college education. She is tickled pink with our recycled gift. A bonus for us: We get to see Mom’s car parked at church when we visit on Sundays.
Cards and cars – both have a second life, one an artifact to hold – the other, providing a pathway to the next step in adventure for a brave woman.
Valuing the past and the present, both solemn acts, both borne of love. As Wendy Schuman concludes, “As I sorted through her things, I felt surrounded by her presence. In a way, it helped me say my final goodbye.”
Have you had to say goodbye to someone or something you have cherished?
How have you learned to say “Goodbye”?
Coming next: Mom’s Accessories: Bonnets, Hankies, Pins, and More
28 thoughts on “Moments of Discovery # 2: Dad’s 1921 Report Card & Mom’s 1989 Car”
Wow, a 1911 report card. That seems special to me, too!
Your car story reminds me of how an adult son at our church (our age) had to get rid of his mother’s car when she had to stop driving, a beautiful little Toyota Echo. So we bought it, it had the International emblem on the back for Switzerland, CH, her adopted country for a number of years. Especially when I saw the symbol, I remembered her gentle presence among us. (She died a few years after we acquired the car.) I don’t think he minded seeing the Echo on the church parking lot, either. 🙂
A parallel story, Melodie. And I can’t resist the sweet pun on the word “Echo” of remembrance in the church parking lot. You are # 1 today – thanks for reading and commenting.
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A difficult task but a necessary one. I’ve had to do it recently too. One interesting document I have now is of my grandfather as president of the school board where my dad, the youngest in the family, and all six of his siblings attended. I can’t get too excited though, it was only a one-room country school! I’m still glad to know that education was important to my grandparents!
If it’s education, you can get excited, Anita, regardless of the size of the school. The learning was superior then, and recess was never cut from the curriculum. Thanks for your reminiscence.
His looks better than mine 🙂
. . . which proves that grades aren’t everything! 😉
Marian — Once again I’m blown away at your findings: your dad’s report card circa 1911-12. WOW! And what a tremendously thoughtful gift to give — your mom’s vehicle — to a woman who will put it to excellent use. My hat is off to you and yours!
I have, indeed, learned how to say goodbye — to my mother, who died from breast cancer at the too-young age of 53. And while it was difficult, the blow was softened a wee bit with the knowledge that I carry a spark of her in my personal energy signature.
Your words are always encouraging–thank you, Laurie.
The phrase “personal energy signature” describes to a tee the spark of power inherited from your mother. I love it!
My experience of this (cleaning out the living space of a loved one) was a bit more grueling than yours. But, ultimately, we all have “sweeping up the heart,” and that’s the most difficult part, wouldn’t you agree? Sympathies on the loss of your mother. Q.
Sweeping up the house is an event that has an end point. I agree that “sweeping up the heart” is a different matter altogether, a process that continues the length of one’s life, I have to conclude. Thanks for visiting here today, Cathy!
I just now looked at your blog post from 2011. You are right – that was a lot of stuff! Thankfully, you made it through and can empathize with others going through a similar ordeal. 🙂
Oh, that poem so touches my heart. We will always miss someone close to us, won’t we?
Emily Dickinson has wisdom for almost every age and stage of life. I found this is quote recently and thought it fit just right for this post. I’m glad you appreciated it, Fiona.
Isn’t it amazing the things we find when sorting out the keepsakes of the past. We find things that perhaps at some earlier point in our lives we would have found to have not much significance in another time. I remember sorting through my dad’s stuff when he passed. It was painful. Bittersweet.
So true, Debby. And we haven’t even started on the attic where there are more keepsakes. Yes, bittersweet is the perfect word for this experience. Thanks for empathizing!
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I love what you did with the car. A perfect solution your mom would,have approved of. I cleaned out Mom’s place when she moved into a care home. The nice thing was I could take things to her and ask what she wanted to do with the items. It worked out well. There were many memories. The hardest thing to know what to do with are the photographs. Our family takes a lot of them.
As you point out, when the cleaning out occurs makes much a difference. Your mother played an active role in where her things went. Fortunately, my mother gave many of her most precious things away one by one beginning years ago. Sometimes we find notes on objects that give us clues as to where they should go. Otherwise, we have offered china, silverware and other special items to grandchildren and made our best guess about other things. I’m making digital versions of the photos, but at some point they too will have to be assigned a home.
Thank you for sharing your experience. I can feel your empathy, Darlene.
What a lovely gesture to give Edda your mother’s car. I’ll bet your mother is smiling down from Heaven on that decision.
I’ve helped in a sorting but have not dealt with ALL of the memorabilia, belongings, etc. It could be cathartic, but also overwhelming. I treasure the few items I held onto. They do bring back many wonderful memories every time I see them. 😉
The car donation was my sister’s idea because she sees Edda more often than I do and knew her need. She was overwhelmed with gratitude.
Cathartic, healing, and overwhelming are all words I’d use to describe the process, Judy!
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Hi Marian–for some reason I’m not getting emails of your posts. The WordPress Gremlin again, I guess! It is very difficult to go through the clutter left behind by a loved one, but also rewarding in a bittersweet way, as with your father’s report card/booklet. That is so special. And how wonderful that you were able to “recycle” your mother’s car to someone who truly appreciates it.
Wordpress also wouldn’t let me post a comment until I went directly to your page (instead of going through “Blogs I Follow”).
I’m impressed and saddened by all the calisthenics you had to go through to read/comment on my blog post.
Here’s my story: One day after realizing I wasn’t getting email notifications from blogs I follow, I went to this website https://wordpress.com/settings/notifications and discovered that the box to block notifications from WordPress blogs I follow was ticked unintentionally. That is, something within WordPress blocked my receiving email notifications – Of course, I never ticked the box to block! How to fix, I wondered.
After several (3) chats with WordPress “Happiness Engineers,” the problem may have been solved. The 3rd person said this: Don’t put email notifications from your email account into a spam folder. WordPress doesn’t “like” that! Instead, put the unwanted notifications into trash and then when you are in your WordPress account you can get rid of it. I hope this lengthy discourse nails your problem.
You probably know this, but you can also get assistance at email@example.com But first I’d advise going to the site above and see whether or not the settings show that your WP email notifications are blocked. Do let me know if this helps, Merril. Sorry about your problems. I know the feeling.
Thanks, Marian. I went to the settings and found the box on mine was inexplicably checked, too. Weird. I’m not sure if the Save Changes worked, but we’ll see!
The report card is priceless and the car made a wonderful gift. We too are sorting through the possessions of a loved one, my dear father in law who passed away recently. It’s a terribly sad task and, as he was a hoarder of things, a long one. At the moment there seems to be no end in sight and it’s hard, especially on my poor husband. Yesterday we scattered his ashes from a plane (he was a pilot in his spare time) and that was beautiful, but the possessions still remain.
Your story reminds me of the bittersweet that goes along with the passing of a loved one – precious memories yet the possession remain.
Marie, I would like to nominate you for the 2014 Work-in-Progress Tour. It gives you some free publicity and would require very little on your end: Some lines from a work in progress or even excerpts from blog posts + willingness to nominate other bloggers whose work you admire. Let me know if you are interested and I can give you details.
As I read several of your posts in a row, I’m struck with your sensibility of giving things a second life. I love that you gave your mother’s car to Edda and I love the joy you derive in seeing it in the church parking lot on Sundays.
My mother’s recent death, I suppose, is the great impetus behind giving things a second life, all part of the cycle of life-death-rebirth. Great insight, Georgette.