The Last Thing

Grief is an oscillation between want and have, between need and want, between here and gone. It does strange things to a person. When my mother died I kept saying to my aunt, over and over, “this must be so hard for you”.

A Freudian might call it transference. My aunt finally broke and asked “why do you keep saying that?” And I bumbled around for a while, something about having had mum her whole life, and realising as I said it that I had had mum my whole life too…

My father walked through the house carrying copies of my mother’s will, gripping the thing that made the most sense to him. He told us, “take what you want that came from you; I don’t want it”, but he kept things that made no sense.

Grief is more profound than sadness; it’s a study in juxtaposition: hollow but full of emotions, quiet but unquiet, busy but desperately bereft of purpose. So as I wade through the remnants of my mother’s life that have been packed away in boxes in the corner of the master bedroom in my father’s house, I bear witness to my father’s grief undone, laid bare before me.

Her diplomas next to the ugly construction paper name plate from her hospice room. Newspaper clippings from her career tucked in beside newspaper clippings of her car accident (made the news because her car ended up upside down in the middle of a fairly busy street and nobody was injured). Her birth announcement, tattered and crumbling, with literal stacks of her funeral cards. Two sheets of bubble pack medication, every farewell from her retirement, and snapshots of every part of her life.

My father, no stranger to grief, packed it all away, but only sorta away, so that he saw the piles of it every time he went to bed. Perhaps unironically he prefers to sleep on the chesterfield.

I have come to his house to meet with a realtor. To sell my childhood home. Da will be moving to a retirement community next month and he would not be able to sort through these parts of his life, locked up and packed away, so here I am. This place is both a mausoleum and a comfort.

Stacked on the table are dozens of Readers Digest magazines, still in their plastic poly bags. They are new and unopened. They are addressed to my mother.

My mother has been dead for seventeen years, but this is the last thing that was in her name and he couldn’t bear to cancel the subscription. He doesn’t read them, but sometimes he opens them and stacks them in the bathroom above the wc. For the last couple of years he’s just been stacking them in the kitchen.

I put them in the recycling and cancelled the subscription. Perhaps it felt like another ending; perhaps it felt like nothing at all. That Da would hold on to this as the last thing of my mother’s is both maddening and heartachingly sweet.

His grief looks like this: stacks of magazines, photographs and mementoes packed away in giant plastic tubs, and empty, echoing rooms in this big, old house.



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7 responses to “The Last Thing”

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Avatar

    When my parents died, my sisters in Mexico City packed up two boxes for me and sent them. I have been unable to open them and see what my share of the family photos and other things is – as I was unable to go to their funerals or the burial of their ashes together in a crypt in a church; I went by iPad, because I can’t travel, and more than that, cannot take the adrenaline – and everyone from my childhood will want to offer their sympathy and ask how I’m doing.

    I understand. The disbelief of grief overwhelms. Hugs.

  2. DerKaptin Avatar

    We recently moved my mom to a home, and although she’d already downsized once, when she moved from the farm to her condo, I still took carloads of stuff to Goodwill, the recycling station and the dump. Mom was a keeper of plastic bags and string. What started as a survival strategy became simply a way of living.

    But the point is, of the considerable amount of stuff she has left, she has no interest in sorting through it. “I can’t be bothered trying to decide what to keep and what to chuck,” she says. “I’m just leaving that for you kids to deal with.”

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      I didn’t think I wanted it. I think I thought I’d already gone through everything but these bins, they were full of things I hadn’t seen. Or don’t remember seeing.

      Many of them I know why Dad thinks they’re important (all the plaques & certificates mum earned through her career) but which mean nothing to anyone anymore. I’m keeping the photos; some I’ll send to my aunts and many I’ll shred and recycle once I’ve gone through them.

      Just think: i have another whole house AND A FARM to do.

  3. Sky Avatar

    Thank you for this. As always, your word-fu is next level. I smelled old paper when I read that.

    It’s gripping and in a workday where I have to just keep sprinting, it stops me in my tracks and grabs me by the innards. It reminds me to slow down and think a little more deeply and I need and appreciate that.

    1. cenobyte Avatar


      Thank you, Sky!

  4. Arnisador Avatar

    My garage is still full of stuff from mom and dad. It’s been over twenty years and it was only in June that we finally started to purge some of the contents. But still can’t bear to let go of so much stuff, like it’s my last link to the memories.

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      I’m great at purging. I’m not great at going through stuff. I’d rather just pitch and not know what I pitched.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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