Now while the wait
Again, from the list of “drafts”. Last year…
We talk about plan, we talk about the future. We wonder what advice we’d have and remember from our Mothers. I was able to ask, and she said “choose your battles wisely.” I have no idea what she means anymore because it seems most battles aren’t of my choosing. Her loss. Craig’s loss. To be 28 and loose them both, and to look to the future with any hope of something that would match those seemingly negative experiences with something positive. A boulder to a boulder. Something of equal weight.
I just returned from Oklahoma and the lofty experience of packing up the belongings of two loved ones into some 2X3 or 2X4 container that would protect their presence and essence with any regularity and comfort as plastic in a climate controlled storage unit can afford. Jill was in Bangkok, Diane in Denver, and our Dad not yet able to pack up belongings; merge into, move, or discard perhaps, but not pack up. Then there was me. I traveled to Oklahoma to help him.
There they were: first Craig’s room with chiseled swords surely used to combat an evil Steve Hall or any other young foe, books that could describe to any alien the inner workings of middle earth, and the complete design and architecture of legos and its ferocious, unyeilding men standing guard (with the occasional muscle men, whom, let’s face it, Jill and I played with more times than not). Truth be told, by then, a good year after his passing, Dad’s belongings had hijacked or grown over like weeds into most of Craig’s spaces which he very plainly demarcated — “Craig’s stuff: do not throw out.” He posted this sign after learning that some of his (tackier) attire and perhaps Halloween costumes a la Dad’s 1970’s wear had been thrown out. If there is ever a reason to post a sign, this is one. …Clearly… ;0) The sign, his legos, makeshift dungeons of dragons weapons, casual drawings of his sisters in the art of Garbage-pale Kids, college notes and the like were tenderly and neatly tucked into a plastic box for a later time. I went through each nook and cranny in a compulsive manner even shocking to myself. I wanted to make sure that all of Craig was captured for my sisters and I to part with when the time came given that they were not there at the onset. Too many memories to potentially destroy either by lack of foresight or haste.
I moved to the room Jill and I once shared, which has become the catchall of all other things…and a safe place for the most important of things. Our room became the sanctuary when having Mom’s and Craig’s belongings (in boxes) in common areas meant possible destruction or, at the least, anxiety and lecture. Understandable. I live in my apartment of reminders; I don’t know what it is like to live in a house of constant reminders. I can understand wanting to bathe in it for a moment and then cleanse. But, I do know what it is like to return home and still see my mom’s purse hanging on the doorknob waiting for her; or to go to her bathroom and see her mirror, her toothbrush, her drawer of make-up. As much as I selfishly wanted that kept as a reminder — to feel her, smell her, and remember her — that alone brought me here to help dad. I couldn’t imagine him facing that day to day and I couldn’t imagine him one day throwing it out before we could say goodbye.
I moved through mine and Jill’s room. Much of our mom’s clothing was hanging in our closet; the majority of her highschool, college, and other keepsakes were in our room. Then to our mom’s room. Mom did not have such signs as Craig to deter intruders but her spaces were equally hijacked or grown over. Though I love my dad, I couldn’t help but envision temples obscured by an overgrown forest. My mom was the temple now past in tense and my dad, a thriving overgrown forest. It is how it is to be, I know, but the sight and image and concept is hard to process. I found her clothes buried between dad’s suits and long-sleeves which she dutifully ironed despite her full-time professional job.
In our room and in hers, I folded each garment and placed it in a tub. Each purfumed experience that exclaimed “Mom”, each deodorant and sunscreen infused garment that spoke of Craig, even those shirts that still held tight the common yet exquisitely personal stickers of a room number on the Oncology ward — 1102. They were all inhaled, all felt, all experienced and placed in time before being placed in a carrier of time — some plastic tub to hold them until another time. And, until another time, I will be able to remark upon the tears that filled my eyes each time I pulled a sweater from its hanger; Mom from her effort of placing her sweater on a hanger; Craig’s suit he wore to her funeral; Mom’s bridesmaid’s dresses and her wedding veil which I opened in Dad’s presence to find us both sharing long, sorrowful tears. “I think this is Mom’s wedding veil.” Dad: “Oh boy.” Me: pulling the box arms away. “Yes, ….it is her wedding veil.” To look up at dad with tears in his eyes and hear him able to say, “Oh, boy.” The tears tracing my cheeks fell like his. I’ll never forget that — to see him in his crisp button down and tie, pulled slightly loose after a day of teaching, staring at the box. Such a small hallway to share such a large experience. We did as Lawlers do — own the moment, then go to dinner.
Until you know what it is to lose, you will have no idea what is like to move through the lives of those you’ve lost, to see them come to life in the very fabric that you hold to your nose, to remember their form in its threads, to once again suffer the disconnect of loss and life, to put to bed those meaningful stones that now lay as boulders next to the memories that remain. You will remember me, come hail, sleet or snow, they say. You will remember me.
It’s cruel. Death. Cruel to those whose lives were cut short. Cruel to those left behind. Cruel to those they’d never meet. I wish I could see my brother as a father, my mom as a grandmother. To see her as she was with us. To see them as they are today.
I packed up Craig’s room, Mom’s room, the room Jill and I shared, any remnants in Diane’s room, all closets, every nook and cranny, and even the garage. (Even defrosted the deep freeze for Dad and organized the pantry and laundry room.) All was packaged neatly, tenderly, and loaded into a U-Haul for storage. Dad helped. I’ll never forget that experience — to ride together in an over-sized U-Haul and unload box after box and tub after tub in the pouring rain. We did it together — not without strain, a little bloodshed, and laughter — but together nonetheless.
So now while the wait, in storage and in life, until the time to re-experience and say goodbye, if need be, to the items that remain…though they will always remain in memory.
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