This charming photo is a self-portrait. I’m standing in front of my childhood home one last time. I worked hard to deliver a smile, but you can still tell it’s a bittersweet photograph.
Anyone who has navigated the waters of caregiving an elderly parent, especially one ravaged by disease, knows that the physical act of shutting down a home can be difficult on the caregiver both physically and emotionally.
Many of us–especially those of us who are only children of “collectors”–are faced with an added issue. We simply can’t keep every single item that our parents may have stashed away. If I had one piece of advice for anyone going through this process, it’s this: Give yourself as much time as possible to separate memory from stuff and keep only what pleases you.
I realize that’s not always easy. For many families, time is of the essence as they seek to come up with funds to cover long-term nursing care. Moreover, if you have to travel a great distance to empty a home, it can be hard to slow down and be methodical.
But do try to give yourself as much time as possible to prevent regret over lost items later. Even a solid hour alone jotting down priority items can help.
As the daughter of a talented woman with great taste, I went into this process recognizing that there would be a lot of beautiful items that I simply couldn’t keep. I just don’t have enough room.
So I prioritized items first by utility and aesthetic value followed by sentimental attachment. I also prioritized hand-made items over mass-produced goods. Consequently, my stash of family quilts is pretty large. This is only a portion of them:
For some items in my mother’s house, I decided that a photo of the item would be sufficient to bring back a treasured memory. Once captured on my camera and uploaded to my computer (and backed up!), I could let the “thing” go knowing that I had some record with which to summon the memory. There were, of course, a few items that were given to friends and family. Several charities benefitted, too.
My approach has given me peace of mind in this storm that we call “long-term caregiving”. Although I did wind up with a lot of boxes filled with stuff, I don’t feel overrun by it. This month I’m slowly going through it all again, sorting and storing things in some semblance of order. Eventually I may release more of it.
For now, I’m content to know that my house–the “new Mothership” as I think of it–reflects more than two generations of cherished items. Take for instance a corner of my office:
Once vacant, it now holds a collection of floral paintings, a piece of my maternal grandmother’s wedding gown framed in glass, and the china cabinet my grandmother purchased with her “butter and egg money.” All of it rests alongside a cabinet inherited years ago from my paternal grandparents and filled with stuff from both sides of my family and my husband’s family as well.
Because everything pictured was lovingly gleaned from the old house rather than hastily boxed away, I feel more connected to it all. I like to think it enriches our world rather than merely taking up space. Somehow–and to my surprise–the endeavor of sorting through one person’s collected material goods has yielded a deeper connection to people, not simply boxes of stuff.
And that, frankly, may be one of the secret rewards of caregiving in general: a chance to reconnect with one’s roots.
Pamela Price is an award-winning blogger, writer, editor, homeschooler, and caregiver in San Antonio, Texas. She can be found on Twitter at @redwhiteandgrew.