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You Can’t Take It With You.

Excruciating.

That’s what kind of week it’s been around here.

In early April my sister and I had a pretty tough week as we performed a heart-wrenching search for a good nursing home for our Bonus Grandma* M.

This week was worse, because we have been helping to pack up her condo and–yesterday–moved her out of her beloved condo into her new (nursing) home.

I have so many thoughts swirling through my head and could probably write for days about all of it, especially because that’s what I tend to do in order to cope, but I just can’t. Besides the fact that my sister and I feel very raw over the events that have transpired, I really feel that if I were to write publicly about this week’s events in detail, I would be dishonoring M. I have already had moments of feeling violated on her behalf as we packed up her belongings, going through drawers and closets as if she weren’t there, even though she was.

What I do feel comfortable writing about is the “You can’t take it with you” concept. I have said this phrase many times in my life, but wasn’t intimate with its meaning until this week.

Naturally, when one moves into a nursing home where they will live for the rest of their days it is necessary to first go through a lifetime’s worth of belongings and figure out what should be taken along. In one of the quieter moments of Monday afternoon when M (who is wheelchair-bound and dependent on a 24/7 caregiver for absolutely everything) felt up to choosing a few special items to display on her dresser at the home, she allowed my sister to push her wheelchair into the dining room to her glass curio cabinets, where I removed Lladro figurines, crystal pieces, and other things one by one, holding them closer to her so she could see them.

“Do you want to take this, M?” one of us would say.

She would think about it for a second, in some cases reaching out so she could hold it. After consideration, most of the time she would say, “No, I don’t want it. Do YOU want it?

Most of the time we would smile and respectfully answer, “No, but thank you so much for offering!”

As much as M had to decide which of her lifetime’s worth of belongings meant the most to her, my sister and I had the same challenge on a secondary level. We wanted to take only a couple of things with us, and we wanted to make sure that they were meaningful to us. When M first told me–because she knew that I have a couple of Lladro figurines at home–that she wanted me to look at hers and take whatever I wanted, I walked over to the curio cabinets and stood silently, not moving a muscle as my eyes scanned their contents. All of her Lladros are beautiful, and I definitely wanted to take one. As I stood there gazing at them, I waited for them to “tell me” which one I should choose. I felt an immediate attraction to a simple little girl who is holding a hat and a flower. I kept my choice private until we went through the sculptures with M because I didn’t want to claim it as my own until she decided that she didn’t want it. And she didn’t. When she asked, “Do YOU want it?” I replied, “Yes. Thank you very much, M. I love her.”

Of course I saw lots of things in M’s condo that I would have enjoyed having, but I was serious–as was my sister–about making sure I was taking something because it reminded me of M and her late husband. If I “just liked it”, I left it there. When it comes down to it, stuff is just stuff. You can carry a bunch of stuff around with you for your entire life, but if the stuff doesn’t offer a sentimental, emotional, or other meaningful association with a memory, it is just clutter. And at the end of the road–whether that road leads to a single room in a senior care facility or the end of life itself, you really can’t take it all with you.

I’m glad that I made my heart work in conjunction with my brain in selecting the treasures I brought home. When I looked at it all together, I realized that I made excellent decisions: the collection truly represents my favorite things about and memories of my relationship with M.

M and her hubby--and it runs in our family too--loved seeing live performances. M often wrote the date and time of the show they attended at the top of the program, along with the theater name.

The bible on the left was purchased by M and her hubby on an Israel trip, along with an identical one for my maternal grandparents. My grandma kept hers on display in the front room (or "fronchroom", as it's also known in a Chicago home), right next to the candy dish and my mom now has it in her house. The two small plates are Wedgwood China.

Need I say more?

Going through someone else’s entire collection of belongings is definitely a bittersweet experience. Along with the hassle of it all (the pain of the reason you’re doing it as well as finding junk that shouldn’t have been kept in the first place), there are lovely moments of remembrance that can take you by surprise, like when my sister and I read through greeting cards that M and her hubby had given each other over the years: he was a romantic devil! (M’s daughter-in-law is hanging on to the cards, but she graciously allowed us to bring home one especially adorable one.) It’s during moments like that when you realize that even though you can’t take it all with you, if you pay close attention you can easily end up taking what’s important.

*M and her late hubby J were our maternal grandparents’ best friends. M and our Grandma were known (in their younger days) to stop for hot dogs and fries on their way home from Weight Watchers meetings, and M often accompanied us on our city adventures, especially when those adventures included shopping, shows, or visits to Jewelers’ Row. Our grandparents passed away when I was 10-11, and M & J became bonus grandparents. They never had grandchildren of their own, and we were honored to be treated as if we were connected by blood.

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  • Liz May 24, 2012, 3:57 pm

    Oh, Melisa, my heart goes out to you and Jules. M is very lucky to have you two to help through this very difficult time and transition. My next door neighbor is 104, her family moved her into a nursing home a few weeks ago and have been cleaning out her house ever since then. They’re over, right now. I can hear stuff being thrown on the back of her great-nieces pick-up truck. I can’t even imagine. Oh, and the Lladro you picked…my mother has that same piece.

  • As Cape Cod Turns May 24, 2012, 4:05 pm

    I know how hard the last few days (months) have been for you. You and Jules are lucky to have M and she is just as lucky to have you both. Good choices on your new treasures. I am going to have “If I were a rich man” going through my head for the rest of the night…..
    xoxo

  • houseofJules May 24, 2012, 4:09 pm

    Yup.

  • Momo Fali May 24, 2012, 4:13 pm

    Shut up! That’s just dirt in my eye! I’m not crying.

  • Karen (@mom-mom-mom) May 24, 2012, 5:33 pm

    Beautiful tribute to M and the importance of putting everything in perspective. So sorry that you are going through this tough time~

  • mags May 24, 2012, 6:57 pm

    I’m so sorry that you’ve had to go through this, but it warms my heart to know that you have “things” to remind you of them. Even though they are just things, I find that sometime it brings me comfort to look at them and touch them, knowing that the person I loved touched them too.

  • Mom24@4evermom May 24, 2012, 7:31 pm

    (((Hugs)))

  • Grandma W May 25, 2012, 7:54 am

    OMG tears are just flowing, I am so proud of you and your sister. You can’t imagine how I feel I wish I could have helped more. I know this has been so hard but I also know that M and N really appreciate all you are doing and all you have done.
    I also know that Grandma J is watching you and Jules from above and smiling from ear to ear with lots of pride.
    Love
    Grandma W

  • Patty May 25, 2012, 8:16 am

    I just want to hug you for a really long time. What beautiful memories of such a beautiful relationship with M. She’s very lucky to have you both! xoxo

  • Tara R. May 25, 2012, 6:21 pm

    Such a difficult task to pack up someone’s whole life into a few boxes. You and Jules are true, and loving friends to do this.

  • TheNextMartha May 26, 2012, 9:51 am

    Big hugs for your rough week. This story was lovely.