Everything Has To Be Somewhere

Yesterday, Dave, my younger brother and I cleaned out Mom’s apartment. She died last week, not long after her 90th birthday. I was able to fly out from California for her party. It was a lot of fun. Mom had a rough night just before I left to go home. Just before my plane took off, I got a call telling me that she had to go to the hospital. She wasn’t doing well, and Dave  gave me the heads up in time for me to get a flight from California back to New Jersey. We both were by her side when she passed away.

I’ve been in New Jersey now, for a week and a half since Mom died. I am glad that she seemed to die peacefully and without pain. Although it was truly odd to be there when she was living one moment and not living in the next. I am sure that I haven’t started grieving yet since I have not had that crushing sadness that everyone talks about. I think that the joy of seeing my cousins whom I haven’t seen in years mitigated my sad mood. I am fairly good at compartmentalizing and take any opportunity to do so.

The happy feelings at seeing my cousins were replaced by a combination of nostalgia and reflection as Dave and I began to empty Mom’s apartment. I learned some things I hadn’t known before; certain objects I remembered resurfaced.  However, the time constraints of vacating by end of the month made us accelerate the process. As I suspected, my careful labeling of boxes and photographing all the contents went by the wayside as we packed box after box after box. In the end, there were many boxes which had to be labeled ‘Miscellaneous’ since the contents were not organized. As the apartment emptied, time slowed down. It was taking forever. There was always something to put in a box.

We could say we emptied Mom’s apartment  “on time and under budget.”

Photograph: Mom's Birthday Present From Me - Watercolor

Last In, Last Out
Digital Photo

This was the last item to go: the watercolor I painted for Mom’s 90th birthday.

Meanwhile, at Dave’s. This is currently the scene:

Watercolor: Family Room with Mom's Stuff in It

Everything Has To Be Somewhere
6″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I go back to California tomorrow.

We’re Done

My brother Dave and I just finished cleaning out Mom’s apartment. I’ve been back on the east coast from California for about 10 days: since February 19. I was here in the east earlier in the month for Mom’s 90th birthday party. She was determined to have her party. A full six months before she was to turn 90, she called to ask me if I was planning to come for her 90th birthday celebration. When I told her that I wouldn’t miss it, she seemed satisfied and told me that she would ‘hang on’ until then. Mom always got right to the point. It was only a few days after I was back west that Dave called and told me that I’d better come back. Mom wasn’t doing well. Mom died less than an hour after I was at her bedside.

After the burial, I stayed to help Dave clear out Mom’s apartment. This allowed me to miss Mom through the nostalgia of the memorabilia she saved and, at the same time, compartmentalize, by keeping busy with the task at hand.

Not that long after my father died, Mom moved into an independent living community. This required a radical downsizing. Although they had only been in their retirement home for about 20 years, I am sure there was more than 50 years worth of stuff crammed into it. I am grateful for not being present for this bloodletting of possessions. I am a packrat by nature and could have found reasons for keeping nearly everything. It was to everyone’s advantage that I wasn’t there.

But even with the downsized load of stuff at Mom’s apartment, it took Dave and me an entire week to empty it. It took us a full 12 hours to finish packing, loading and moving everything out.

Here is a flawed panorama of her empty bedroom.

Photograph: Bedroom Panorama

Mom’s Bedroom
Digital Panorama

After we were all done, I took this parting shot.

Photograph: Last Look at Mom's Apartment

Last Look
Digital Photo

Mom’s space is no more. Her personal space died with her and now the place where she lived no longer exists either. She now only lives in the memory of those who knew and appreciated her.

Grief: Where To Begin?

Many of you, like me, may be classic movie fans. I tend to gravitate toward Film Noir. I’m a noiry kind of guy. Also, crime films. One can learn a lot from movies. Just the other day, I was watching White Heat, starring Jimmy Cagney. He played a sociopathic, homicidal momma’s boy named Cody. Cody was smart too. He decided to confess to a crime that took place at the same time he was committing a worse crime, so he would have an alibi. While he was in the Big House at the mess hall, he noticed another prisoner at the table who might have had some information about his mom. The word passed from Cody, to prisoner, to prisoner, “How’s my mom?” When word got to the man who knew, he sent word back: “She’s dead.” You could see the word getting closer and closer to Cody.  You knew it was going to be bad. No one imagined how bad, though.

When he got the word, Cody started moaning. He slammed his plate down. Crying louder, he climbed up on the table. He punched out several prisoners and a couple of guards. Wailing and crying, Cody was carried away by no less than four cops.

There was no doubt that Cody was grief stricken by the loss of his mother. What a griever, that Cody!

My mother died about a week ago. I didn’t wail or even cry. I could be a late-onset griever. However, (and I’m in favor of this interpretation), maybe it means I’m not a sociopathic, homicidal momma’s boy.

At present, I’m filling the time with activity. Together with my brother Dave, we are packing up my mother’s apartment and moving it all out. There are times when we stop and marvel at one thing or another… a can of tuna from 2007, photos from our childhood, Mom’s handwritten notes, and so on. But we have our own drop dead date (pardon the pun) to vacate the premises.

The watercolor below represents three turbulences. Black and white ones surround the blue, red and yellow one. Strong, dynamic forces in each funnel cloud.

Watercolor: Abstract Tornado Motif

Follow the Yellow Brick Road
6″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I know everyone grieves in different ways. I am not a young person. Will my numbness wear off? Does a person get too old to grieve? I certainly get sad at many things but grieving is to sadness the way the flu is to a cold. I would certainly notice if I were grieving.  I feel bad about not crying at Mom’s funeral. She would have wanted me to. When she was alive, she said that would be a healthy thing to do

Things Go Better With Bro

I was really tired yesterday after working with my brother Dave in Mom’s apartment. We drove back to Dave’s house and I couldn’t find my computer. I realized that I must have left it at Mom’s. I had to do my entire blog post on her iPad. This morning when I woke up, I saw that my computer was leaning next to my pack. I must have taken it out of the pack and immediately forgotten. I was that tired.

Our mother died about a week ago, about a week after her 90th birthday. I’ve been out here is the frigid east coast since she died, working with my brother to clear out her apartment.

Dave and I are four years apart. I am older. Our brother Michael is older than me by about 3 years. Mike is very low functioning, autistic and nonverbal. I describe in much detail my experience as a sibling of an autistic individual in the earlier parts of my blog. Dave doesn’t remember a lot about him. Our parents said they tried to shield us from the effects of having a disabled, autistic brother.

Our family was composed of two very bright parents, two bright children and one child so profoundly disengaged that he was unreachable. Our family dynamic was far from that of the Leave It To Beaver template that was the standard for the 1950s.

I tried to be a good big brother to Dave, but we didn’t really get to talk that much on an equal footing. My current visit, although it has encompassed a milestone in our lives – the death of our mother – has enabled us to discuss things we haven’t spoken much about before: perspectives on growing up in our family; individual recollections of events at which we were both present; new realizations about our parents; new realizations about each other.

Photograph: Brothers

Brothers
Digital Photo

I mentioned the other day that since Mom died, there is no one around who has known me my whole life. I am proud to have been around at the start of my brother’s life and, although I can’t give him much information about his first few years, I can support his recollections of family life from a very early age.

I spent one day alone at Mom’s apartment after she died, trying to clean up. It was very difficult. These past couple of days with my brother Dave there with me, have been much better.

The Dog Ate My Blog

Ok, not as bad as that, but I left my computer at my Mom’s apartment.

Mom died last week and my brother Dave and I were there today trying to get it together enough to move out by the  end of the month. We had planned for the computer to be the repository for an organized (photographic) listing of what was inside each box we wrapped up. I’ve had occasional spells of this kind of organization, but they tend to wear off pretty rapidly.

Wrapping up boxes, I must say, is going rather slowly. I am always hoping to find a gem, something I did not know about my parents or something I forgot about myself.  That is going pretty well. My brother found a love letter from my mother to my father. It was a part of my mother that I had never seen so overtly expressed. Dave asked me if I thought she wrote it before they had kids. I told him there was no doubt in my mind that it was before then.  Our parent’s first child was my older brother Michael. Mike is the reason I started this blog in the first place: to express my feelings and thoughts about being a sibling of an autistic individual. He is profoundly retarded (the name of the diagnosis at that time- the 1950s), nonverbal and autistic. Recall that at that time, parents (primarily the mother) were said to be the reason that the child was autistic. In fact they called mothers of autistic children, “refrigerator mothers“.  There was no way that my mother could have been in a state of mind to write a love letter with Mike around.

I loved seeing that part of my mother. It makes me appreciate that she and Dad must have had a really good time before we children came along. I wish I knew them then.

Just before she died, Mom told  me that she didn’t appreciate Dad enough and that she regretted that.  Those were very tough times and I don’t know if anyone  could have come though that situation unscathed.

Tomorrow I hope to have my own computer back and to write on more familiar technology. Mom, your iPad is great, but I’m jus not used to it.

 

Dismantling

I began the process of unmooring my mother’s possessions from their resting places in her apartment. I wasn’t there for her initial downsizing from the house where she lived with my father. He died in 2007 and she shopped around for a place where she could be happy. She found one, but it was too small to accommodate years of accumulated things. I don’ know how she did it but she did. She seemed happy with her new environs.

Since she died a few days ago, just about a week after her 90th birthday, my brother Dave and I have to move her remaining possessions out and vacate the premises within 30 days.

“When an old man dies, an entire library burns to the ground; when an old woman dies, a whole school burns to the ground.” This is an African proverb. It holds a lot of meaning to me. Not everyone dies before giving up his library or her school. The insidious plague of dementia robs many people of their internal ‘books’ and ‘teachings’ before their bodies give out. Mom was luck enough to keep her wits right until the end.

Aftermath:

Mom’s library and school, in the form of her books and pictures were there today when I went to her apartment. Being there was like being inside skeletal remains. There was no one there to illuminate the lovely things she found too dear to part with.

Not being able to ask her a question, a fact or a remembrance, is not a catastrophe, but it is a reminder of my loss of a witness to the past.  I now exist without someone who has known me my entire life. Without pictures, there are only stories of my past that I remember. I remember them but they are stories with no life behind them. How many mothers and children love to relate and hear (respectively) about the day the child was born? There is a dynamic in that interaction.

Where to go from here?

This change is another in the continuing shifting sands of identity. Not only sands of identity, but the sands of time, continually leaking from the top bulb of the hourglass.  The proper thing to do would be to concentrate on things of immediate concern.  Ideally, the way to live one’s life as one ages is to be in the moment. No stories of the past, no yearning for the future, just being in the ‘now’.

I understand that is how things should be but I don’t know how to do that.

All that being said, I would love to know the names of the people in this family photograph:

Photography: Historical Picture of Family

Family Photo
Digital Reproduction

Mom told me some names when I came for her 90th birthday party, but they didn’t seem like what she said before. I didn’t write it down back then.

Forgetting

Mom just died. I was there to celebrate her 90th birthday just a week before her death. My brother Dave and I were both at her side when she passed away.

We had her burial yesterday. I tried to concentrate on every detail. But even today, a day later, I’m starting to forget.

Usually I take a lot of pictures to help me remember things. I’ve done this for most of my life. I just don’t trust my memory.

It is in bad taste to take photographs at a funeral. I suppose people do not wish to be imaged at their most vulnerable moments. It is even worse for a person to take pictures at a funeral of his or her own loved ones. However, I don’t see anything wrong in principle, with taking respectful images at a funeral or burial. They could portray beautiful moments in the cycle of life.

But the act of photographing takes away from participating in the moment. Looking at a scene from behind a camera is isolating. The camera is a physical and emotional barrier between the photographer and the life that is in process in front of the lens.

Memory:

Dave and I were required to view Mom’s body before the burial. I’m not sure if this is only a Jewish thing, or if everyone has to be identify their dead to avoid mistakes. But it was part of our check list of things to do. When we arrived at the cemetery, the hearse was there already and the funeral guy asked us if we were ready to see Mom.

He opened the back door of the hearse and there was the casket on this silver track. He pulled the casket which silently glided toward us, and opened the lid. There were a couple of layers of sheer white material he had to pull back in order for us to see. He didn’t pull it back all the way. We could only see Mom’s nose and chin. I suppose we were reluctant to see the upper part of her face. Neither of us asked if we could. The nose and chin looked like hers, so we identified the body as Mom’s.

I took no picture. I have an idea in my mind about what Mom (her nose and chin, at least,) looked like, but I could not quite translate that image to a piece of paper.

Watercolor: Casket and Mom

Identification
6″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

Will the image in my mind’s eye become as featureless as the image I made only one day after I last saw Mom?

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