How My Mother’s Hoarding Has Helped Me

On June 23, 2016, less than a month before her 90th birthday, my mother died. After living with her for a little more than eight years for the third time, we got to know each other better as adults, and I was her caregiver in her final illness, before she died in the hospital.

Technically, she was old enough to be my grandmother; she was born in 1926, just before the Great Depression, and I was born in 1964, just after the British Invasion. So she had a lot of time to gather things, and keep them, a commonplace behavior in folks who had to endure going without during that time period. I remember asking her when I was 12 (we were learning about it in school), and she told me, “Well, we were poor already, so it didn’t really matter.” Saving things for that day when one might need them, however, became a bad habit for her. And by “things” I mean everything from the address stickers she’d get from some charity asking for a donation to black-and-white photographs the first pouring of concrete into the Hoover (now Boulder) Dam, where her father had worked in the 1930s.

I’ve had a chance to go through many of those things, not all them hers, as there’s also my dad’s things (he was born in 1923, poor too, so they had many traits in common, including — you guessed it — saving things); my Aunt Ann’s things (seven years older than Mom, with no kids to leave it to); my maternal grandmother and grandfather’s things (Aunt Ann was closest to them, so guess who got their stuff when they passed). Since this is about my mom, I’m not EVEN going to go into the family tree on my dad’s side. Maybe later.

But this is sort of connected to him. You see, Mom kept in touch with friends of my father after he died in 1993. Christmas cards mostly, but phone calls now and then. One of the people whom I couldn’t contact right after Mom died was the widow of his best friend, a man he’d grown up with on the southeast side of Detroit, where the streets are like jawbones with missing teeth, lots of them.

At some point, I couldn’t find Mom’s address book right after she died so I could send out memory cards. Then Christmas came, and the cards along with it. One of them was from the widow. Thanks to the Internet, I was able to do an address search and find her phone number — a LAN line, too, which turned out to be most fortunate. I called her and told her about my mom’s death. I had never met this lady in my entire life, yet I knew she was someone who meant something to my mom — not just a connection to my late father, but a woman of her own generation and similar life-experiences.

It was hard not to cry. It’s hard not to cry right now.

(pause)

I know: You’re wondering, “Okay, this is all find and good, but how did your mom’s hoarding help you?” Well, I’ll tell ya.

In cleaning up the house (still slow work-in-progress, natch), I found pictures, lots of them, of my dad and the late husband of the widow, from when they were in service in World War II. When I spoke to her, I told her I would mail some to her, as well as a couple that were just of him. You see, I have a new friend now. Someone I’ve known about for years, but who was just a name to me. But now she’s a person to whom I can relate. And who has already told me about spending time with my dad’s mom, whom I didn’t get to know very well (she died when I was 12; that was a seminal year for me).

She’s called me and thanked me for sending the pictures and has sent me a sympathy card with a beautiful and comforting message written inside.

She’s 87, I’m 52. She lives in California, I live in Michigan. I don’t know how long this is going to last, but I’m so very grateful for this unexpected connection being made.

Thanks, Mom. Now…can you give me a hint as to where the Christmas cards are, so I can send some out this year?

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