Monday, October 25, 2010

When You Leave This Planet . . .


by Kate Collins

I’ve been trying to find a lighthearted topic for my blog this week, but right now it’s not easy to feel that way about much of anything. So instead I thought of something sort of, well, let’s just say, something to ponder: When you leave this planet, what secrets will you leave behind for others to discover?

When my mom passed away a few years ago, my siblings and I had the sad and awkward task of packing up the contents of her house, which meant having to go through each cabinet, closet, and drawer, exposing every tiny element that made up her entire life. It was awkward because we knew there were things she wouldn’t have wanted us to find.

At some time I will face that most difficult task again. But not for a long while. I’m so not ready. Yet the suddenness of my husband’s death made me realize that it could be my turn at any moment. Or your turn. We sure don’t choose when we get to go.

Have you ever thought about what would happen if you were suddenly snatched from your life? Do you have dresser drawers stuffed with things you’d rather others didn’t know about? An underwear drawer that you REALLY don’t want anyone to go through? (Think baggy, stretched out undies.) Are there junk drawers in the kitchen that would be an embarrassment? Treasures that you would want certain family members to have – or not to have? File cabinets filled with papers that should have been discarded ten years ago?

Okay, now be honest. Are you suddenly feeling the need to clean out your closets?

It’s something to ponder, isn’t it?

22 comments:

Linda Leszczuk said...

Kate - a similar point to consider, if I may. My husband and I are currently in the process of going through his mom's things (she passed a couple weeks ago). We have found a number of very old photo albums and lots of loose photos in boxes and envelopes. We'd really love to know who, where and when on a lot of these but they are unmarked. This made me wonder if my own kids will have the same frustration someday with my pictures.

Sobaka said...

I first thought of this right after 9/11. All those people dying suddenly, much sooner than they'd thought, leaving behind things they might not want discovered.

Linda, very good point. There's nothing worse than trying to research family history, and being faced with unlabeled photos that no one is around to identify.

Kate, I'm very sorry for your loss. You strike me as a very strong person. I appreciate how difficult it is to turn outward and share your thoughts and feelings at a time when the natural tendency is to want to turn inward and shut out the world. My thoughts are with you.

Lover of Books said...

I need to go through my photos and label them on the back. I have a bunch I want to print out as well. this will motivate me to get stuff done. :)

And yes really do not want my kids going through my underwear drawer.

Krista

Maggie Sefton said...

Oh, brother---now I know I definitely have to go thru that underwear drawer. And photos----way too many loose ones.

Linda McDonald said...

Kate,
I think you have us all thinking about our underwear drawers! Mine needs going through too.

A couple weeks ago I was looking for something and I found an old journal of mine from the mid-90's. Not that I had anything all that interesting in it, but I decided to shred that sucker, because those were private thoughts, only to be seen by me. :)

MelissaG said...

:) Ahh, you may be embarrassed by thinking about someone seeing them after you are gone but does it really matter at that point? (I'll admit I am in the same boat but then I thought about it. I'll be beyond caring when it happens.)

Some of the things most treasured for historians are those things that are most personal, like a journal. They are the things that really give insight to the people of the time period. (Although, admittedly, I'm not sure what use they could find for ratty, stretched out undies. But I need to quell the desire to go through my drawer and go to work.)

Please take care when marking photos. Be sure to only use photo marking writing utensils so the photos may be preserved!

Leann Sweeney said...

During my daughter's last visit, she and I got busy with two--only TWO--kitchen cabinets. We threw out three trash bags worth of junk. She's always been one to just toss stuff. She lives in a small NYC apartment where you learn to live small. I was so grateful, as my husband is close to being a hoarder. He cannot bear to throw out anything. (Yes. It's all his fault.)

CindyD said...

We recently had our wills redone and our new lawyer recommended we make a list of tangible objects and who we would like to have them. Which made me think about all the potentially valuable objects we have that shouldn't just go to Goodwill - like my collection of Hallmark Christmas ornaments. But I keep putting off making the list..

Miki Willa said...

I have been thinking about what to do with all my journals. I am currently convinced that none of my family members need to read them. I am also convinced that they have no historical value. As for my underwear, that definitely needs immediate attention.

signlady217 said...

This makes me want to laugh and cry! My mom and I each have a continous 'battle' going on with our homes in this arena! We just talked about it, again, last week. We do have some things written down on a list (like who gets all my sewing and scrapbooking supplies!), and we're trying to go through stuff, but it's tough sometimes to do that and keep a clear mind.

And Kate, we're all very sorry for your loss. We love you.

Anonymous said...

I was so thinking this exact same thing last night as I was watching Brothers and Sisters... Creepy!

OH GOD KATE NOW YOU HAVE ME THINKING ABOUT MY DRAWERS!!! NOT A GOOD THING!!!! But besides that underwear drawer, I wonder what I have forgotten about- college papers that I wrote, notes from boyfriends/friends/teachers, pictures from parties/trips/etc. that I thankfully forgot about, yearbooks, and who knows what else. The stuff we save/find is amazing. What pack rats we all are!

I feel as if I should make an "unofficial will" and bequeath some items to certain people, because Kate, you are right- there are some items certain people are not allowed to have, like my Flower Shop Mystery Series or the mac and its accessories.

However, it is pretty cool to think that some people hold on to some items all their lives and forget about them. My grandma saved her parents birth certificates and they were not in English- but Polish! My great aunt was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy during the Korean War. Let me tell you, she has some pretty sweet little items that are now mine- her wings, pins, name tag, metals of honor, the cover of the Newsweek she was on.

I keep thinking... it is stuff like that I want people to find once I am gone (since they can't get into the mac!) and wonder what other secrets did I keep, why didn't I share, and reveal a bit more of who I was and what I cherished. Sometimes, it is the things that are kept secret that mean the most and even make us who we are. If everything was shared, we would all be an open book and no one would take the time to get to know us.

However, facebook and twitter are another story...

Now, time to make "the will."

Kate Collins said...

If I made you all think about your underwear drawer, then my job here is done. ;-)

Linda, great point about the photos. I found one of my mom as a child in a pose that is so wistful, I really wanted to know where she was and what she was dreaming about. I, too, have boxes of photos that never made it to albums. That's sad.

I think there are some things best left unknown about everyone. We found one item belonging to my mom that made us go, "Oh, wow! She was..... human." Made us laugh. At the same time, it's STUCK IN MY HEAD.

Enough said.

Thank you all for the well wishes. All I can say is, day by day. Sometimes hour by hour. My Greek always said I was a strong woman. Although I have been doubting it a lot lately, now's the time to make him proud.

Linda Cowan - Valparaiso said...

I have actually been thinking about that kind of thing, for several reasons. We are trying to figure out what to do with our house, make it easier to live in, downsize a bit. Also a friend moved her mother into a smaller house and she is going through her mother's stuff, trying to figure out what to do with it all. Do to health problems I think about the fact that I will probably not have a long life and wonder what would happen if I died fairly suddenly. Not expecting to, but when you have health problem it is on your mind.
So I have been trying to declutter and to better label things that I am keeping. That's a big job. We have made a number of trips to Goodwill. Will me making a lot more. But the labeling of pictures and things is a good idea for everyone.

Candace said...

Kate, must have been something about the street we lived on as kids that was contagious. Your mom left behind unmarked photos? Who knew? My mom left a huge barrel(you read that correctly) full of photos and one of my sisters became the family historian after that. Laurie distributed pics to all of us with documentation. We think our mom got married to our dad on the rebound after quite the romance with a military guy during WWII.
I have inherited the Kenwood St. phenomena and I have boxes of unmarked photos to organize--someday. You have prompted my conscience. Good news is that I attacked the many old colors of makeup drawer ruthlessly just last Friday. The undies aren't a prob. I cycle 'em in and cycle 'em out routinely.

Thinking of you every day...

Rochelle Staab said...

Kate, I'm so sorry about your loss. One day, one moment at a time. Amen!

I have the cleanest drawers in SoCal because I don't want to be embarrassed on the other side! The underwear drawer was excavated and primped when I had the house painted last year. My Mom saved everything when she was alive; I save nothing except my box filled with journals. I don't know if they'll be fascinating reading or a total bore.

Must clean out the garage though...

Mamacessories said...

I have started cleaning out my closet...but I have to say the most cathartic is cleaning out my heart. I read your post about a week agao, and my heart broke for you. I hugged my husband and son so hard. Then I realized I take for granted that people know how I feel about them. So I started letting everyone I love know how much they mean. I am restraining myself from telling people I don't love how I feel....instead I am finding a way to let go and forgive. I am so sorry for your pain Kate. We are all here for you, just a blog-post away.

Kate Collins said...

Such heartfelt comments. I really truly appreciate them. Sometimes the "foreverness" sweeps me up in a tidal wave of sorrow, then I read comments like these and it changes things.

After my mom died, my underwear drawer and my kitchen cabinets got a thorough cleaning. But there are photos in boxes (not a barrel, Candace. Seriously? A barrel!) Wouldn't that be a fun Sunday afternoon with the family, to go through them with pens, and recall all those fun times?

I'm so glad I've inspired you all to share your feelings. My husband taught me how to do that. I was always a very private person, but he showed me how to speak from the heart. It makes a huge difference to the people we care about.

Thanks, friends, for your encouraging words. Everyone must go through this grieving process at least once in their lives, and to have this loving support makes a tremendous difference.

Lelia said...

I've pondered death's junkyard on more than one occasion. Decided I'd just leave the junk & continue living my life as I please --- I'm such a fossil! The little treasures I hold dear have no value to my kidz, and that is ok. They will make their way to 'somewhere' and eventually find their way into new 'hands'. It is all good.

Jody said...

I've very slowly been working on my mother's photos (which were actually hers, her mother's, her sister-in-law's, and her mother-in-law's pictures) Have been interrupted due to work, illness, etc. I've been putting some photos into an "unknown" box. Luckily my aunt was wonderful about putting names, dates, and often, places on the backs of the pictures. Found a wonderful 4th of July picture from 1901 of my great uncle & family. These are all getting scanned.
The big problem is that MY photos are still not all labeled!

Chèli said...

When my in-law's passed away a few years ago, as the only family member retired and with time I was "awarded" 6 crates - yes crates - of photo albums and loose photos. I went through them for 3 months discarding duplicates (you remember the days of 'get 2 sets for the price of one') and now I have them all sorted by the main person in the photo. While doing this, I ended up with a box of 15 photos that none of the kids knew who the people were. I scanned the photos and sent them to the last of the older generation hoping she would be able to tell us. We still have a few mystery photos. My advice - have photo album weekend with Mom and Dad while they are still with you, number the photos and then log any stories related to that picture in a journal so that when they are gone, you still have their memories.

kim in ohyio said...

My mom passed on this past Feb. My step father started seeing some one just 10 days later. He made us box up my mom's things and move them to my brother's out of state. We then went thru and picked what we want. Just last weekend he made us get the rest of the items on the list. It was so hard to do this, saying good bye to my mom all over again.
she had nothing that would have embrass us, but it was wonderful that we each got a bible that she had own. and Since I consider her second husband my dad, I was given lots of extra things.
Dear husband and I do not have, at least I don't think so. LOL
I am so sorry to hear about your husband. I love your books. I will be praying for you.
kim in ohio

Lilia said...

There are a lot of places that I wouldn't mind someone going through, my kitchen cabinets, my car, etc., but I would never want anyone to have to look through my underwear, or find what's hiding in the back of my sock drawer. It's weird to think about.