Death and Taxes

Death and Taxes

This week my mom’s house sold. She died in October 2008, so it’s been on the market for a while. The rest of my siblings live in Illinois, so they are the ones who’ve had to deal with it… listing it, checking it, arranging for the electricity, insurance, and lawn mowing for an empty house that is this shell where we once laughed around the dining table, strolled around the yard, sat outside and watched the stars while we listened to the train whistles from the old C B & Q tracks a few blocks away.
I am really glad it sold. Even though I still want to go dig up some more woods’ anemones, and a bleeding heart and some of those little yellow iris from the back. Going back to Mom’s empty house is like sidling into a vortex of loss, no matter how briskly or calmly you try to deal with it. It wasn’t so bad when we were sorting out stuff in the aftermath of her death. Because my mom loved stuff, and she had lots of it. We aren’t talking valuable art and expensive jewelry. We are talking collections of Czech bird ceramics that covered the glass shelves my brother installed across the dining room windows. We are talking holiday decorations – she decorated for every holiday, and that woman had more chicks and bunny statues than you could imagine. We are talking about the dozens of crystal prisms strung on monofilament that cast rainbows across her living room every sunny moment.
Sorting through Mom’s stuff was cathartic in many ways. Before we began, we all sat around the living room and stared at each other, wondering where to start.
You know how you hear tales of family strife when it comes to divvying up the estate? That wasn’t us. My brother, who can be incredibly wise, started out. “The most important thing in this house is gone”, he said. “The rest of this is just stuff”. That said, we were free to work through room by room. When there was a question about who would get something, we put it in the “argue box”, a blue Rubbermaid tub in the dining room. So you know there wasn’t much we were willing to go to the mat for. If I recall, there was a plastic oval filled with blue and white sand that you could rotate to make really pretty patterns, and a Stieff black cat in a box that mom wrote “this is collectible” on, so we knew somebody had to take it, and the yellow watercolor of a tree that Mom painted and used to hang in our childhood home.
Okay, so there were a few things that we REALLY wanted. I got the green chalkware art nouveau bust with the broken nose (my brother and I were tossing a beachball around the living room and knocked it off the mantle. When we were kids!). One sister got the Hall’s blue Royal Rose teapot that Mom got for a wedding present. One took the brass candelabra that used to sit on buffet. My sister-in-law was holding back… till we established that she would really like the Czech birds, and we made her take the china cabinet she’d sat next to every Sunday dinner for the last 30 odd years. My brother really only wanted one thing. He wanted the old Gerber baby food can, with both ends cut off, that Mom used to make biscuits. When we were sorting out the kitchen drawers, he grabbed it, held it up, and told all of us kids, “You see this? This is ROSEBUD”.
Anyway, dealing with stuff was okay. It kept us busy. Some went to the auction house, some went to the dump, some went to my brother’s shed, ’cause who knows, our kids may want some of it, some time. A lot of it, we were able to hold up, look at, recall some memories, and then keep the memory and discard the item.
We used the garage for staging stuff. At one point the neighbor lady came out to chat, took a look, and said “Guess I gotta start hitting the auctions and thrift stores so I have some more stuff to leave my kids”. We all cracked up.

Eventually we got all the stuff out and it was really hard, then. We wondered why she never let us enlarge her kitchen. And why she didn’t mention the rot under the front windows… there was duct tape holding the wallpaper together underneath the curtains. We thought about stuff we might have done, and then we took turns taking deep breaths and telling each other, “Mom did what she wanted. We all did the best we could”. We hugged each other, and cried some, and blessed the hospice people who made it possible for us to keep her home.

Mom’s house has been empty over a year. Strangers have wandered through with real estate agents. We really didn’t want to know those strangers thought the house was too small. Cause it was big enough to hold Mom, and all of her stuff, and huge family gatherings on Christmas Eve, and small family Sunday dinners, and her bridge club, and her Christmas tree and her yard was a little slice of floral heaven where she battled with the rabbits. Her house was big enough to hold Mom, and the family she loved, basically that house was big enough to hold Mom’s heart and more love than strangers will ever know.
So I’m glad the house sold. Because Mom isn’t there now. She is in us, the way we laugh over stuff, in the recipes we treasure, in the way we’ve raised out kids, in our love of nature – she is in the very fiber of who we are, and who our children are.
Really. I’m okay with it. And I hope there is some residual love and laughter to bless whoever lives in it next. Because there was always way more than enough to go around.

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