After the funeral and the memorial, after delivering twenty boxes of clothes and kitchen wares to the local domestic violence shelter, and before the task of stripping the walls of my mother’s apartment of her coveted ‘art gallery’ of English scenes of memory, one morning I fled the four walls that had cosseted me in high school to seek sanctuary from my grief.
I fled to a local book store.
Wandering the aisles of self-help tomes, the titles of which made me cringe, I read the spines of various books on how to manage grief. Workbooks outlined Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief, posing the question, how do you know if you are progressing? Texts outline how belief in God was the only path to recovering from acute sadness. One or two admonishing the reader to dig down and focus on survival alone.
Needless to say, my place of sanctuary transposed into four walls of dread until I located one book tucked in the corner of the ‘grief shelf,’ a manuscript that flew in the face of the conventional view of grieving, encapsulated in the mantra of five stages, suggesting that the only option any of us have when a loved one dies is to accept and endure. In other words, get over it, and mind you do so quickly.
The book that became my solace and a reminder of not only my inner strength to not only accept and endure but learn how to thrive again is The Other Side of Sadness: What New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss.
Author George A. Bonanno guides the reader through topics both honest and uncomfortable for some to acknowledge, each one pointing to the central tenet of resiliency.
After my mother died and after the initial few months of death’s aftermath, yes, feelings of loss overtook me sometimes, but also a recognition that my life was now my own and not lived in the shadow of her history or my father’s life.
While eight months later, grief resurfaced, I understood that the decisions I made regarding my mother’s estate were mine to make. No eyebrow would raise in doubt. No sigh would undermine my confidence in knowing that it was the correct decision to leave my job and focus on my writing. I did not have to explain my shift in priorities or defend choices to anyone, even myself.
After clearing my mother’s apartment, my husband and I drove back a sixteen-foot truck half full of my mother’s things. I had to be ruthless. I gave most of my mother’s belongings to friends or charity shops. Parting with her artwork, commemorative Royal wedding mugs, English cottage sculptures, and jewelry stymied me. Yet, over time, the presence of ‘motherabilia’ suffocated my ability to move up a generation.
Last Saturday, I said goodbye to the remainder of the ‘motherabilia’ at a local flea market.
Among the items that brought joy to others were: 44 pairs of earrings; 13 watches; 82 silver and gold necklace chains with about 24 different charms; 59 rings; 12 commemorative Royal Family wedding mugs; and 11 porcelain boxes.
Some readers may find the term ‘motherabilia’ and the act of selling off a parent’s effects churlish. In my case, I discovered that keeping the most meaningful items instead of cramming others into boxes that never see the light of day imbues good memories of my mother. I saved and still enjoy many of her books. Others I donated to a local library for the quarterly book sale. This act would please my mother, I know. All of my mother’s bookmarks receive regular attention and use, too.
We build our lives around objects through the decades, but sometimes ridding ourselves of symbols of another’s life is the only way to the other side of sadness for good.