The Possessions Shuffle

Monday, August 1, 2011

We all get rid of our possessions sooner or later. For some, the major purge comes when we go to our final home, where either God or Satan will take care of us. For others, it happens in stages.

On Roland and my trip to Michigan last month, we joined my mother, my two brothers, and my sister-in-law in cleaning out my mother's house. Mama has mostly recovered from her recent strokes, but at 92 she's decided to give up her house and move to an assisted living facility closer to her children.

My parents lived in the same house since my (now deceased) father retired in 1976, so they had a lot of stuff. I'm guessing it was about average for elderly people who have been in their home a long time--more than some, and not as much as others. But we filled a twenty-cubic-yard dumpster with the items that weren't worth keeping or giving away.

Junk went into the dumpster, and many things were set aside to donate, including a library's worth of books we had already picked over. (The Pages always live up to their name.) Then there was the stuff that had sentimental or practical value.

I've heard horror stories about families splitting up while dividing their parents' belongings. That didn't happen to us.

Mama had already told us how her more valuable jewelry was to be distributed, and one of the reasons my brothers and I work so well together is that we recognize that everything belongs to Mama and is hers to dispose of as she wishes. Nobody feels entitled to any of it.

I'll use Mama's piano as an example.

Much of Mama's furniture has a story behind it, which may be an association with her family or my parents' early marriage. But although it's nice furniture, I don't have room for any of it. My brothers do, and they are taking several of the pieces that Mama isn't moving with her. The piano has neither associations nor significant value, but it is the only piece of furniture I wanted, and I wanted it for my daughter.

My daughter plays for recreation, while my niece has a degree in music. So if Mama had given her piano to one of her granddaughters, she would probably have chosen my niece. But that isn't the path the piano took. Since the piano was the only piece of furniture I asked for, Mama let me have it even though she knew it would end up in my daughter's house rather than my niece's apartment. But the point is that there was no resentment from my brother's family when the piano went to Caroline instead of Rachel.

When we went through things at the house last month, Mama was there. If she said something should go to a particular person, it did (if that person wanted it). If Mama didn't care and more than one person wanted a particular item, we talked it through. If only one person wanted something, that person got it. My younger brother ended up with the most and I ended up with the least, but I was satisfied. I got what I cared about, and we worked everything out without fighting. That's more important than apportioning Mama's household goods equally.

None of Mama's possessions belonged to her children until she gave them to us, and that's how it should be. Goods may help create memories, but the memories aren't locked up in those things. Even monetary value is irrelevant in the long run. Maintaining good family relationships is more important than satisfying any feeling of "entitlement."

A lesson I hope my children remember when our time comes.

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