The last few years have been an incredible rollercoaster of life-altering events. Separation and divorce, sale of my home, purchase of a new one alone, Alzheimer’s, and death of one parent, closely followed by a diagnosis of dementia in the one other one. All the emotions associated with these events can be incredibly overwhelming at times, making you feel like you cannot breathe.
I decided to use all these life-altering events that could have broken me, and instead created an even better version of myself. The adage of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” applies here. I have worked extremely hard over the last while to rebuild my life and reclaim my identity. I am very proud of the person I am today, and I like to think my parents would be as well.
In the latter half of his life, my dad decided to collect and restore Dinky cars. He enjoyed scouring the Internet to find all kinds of deals and it allowed him to connect with people from all over the world who had a similar interest.
I can remember him telling me how he purchased this car or that and explaining what he would do to restore it. Following his passing, I now have a huge number of Dinky cars in various states of repair sitting in my basement. In addition, countless replacement windshields and wheels and all kinds of spare parts. Most people would have no problem parting with this stuff, but for some reason, I’m struggling with it. There’s nothing at all I can do with these items but at the same time because they were important to him, I’m having a hard time letting go.
Objects you associate with a specific person can create an incredible connection to those items, making it unbelievably difficult to part with them. When I look around my house at the many pieces that belonged to my father, I can close my eyes and picture his condo. The artwork on the walls, the brown leather recliner he loved to lounge in, jazz CDs scattered all over the place. It is a nice memory but at the same time, it does make me sad because he’s no longer here and even almost two years later it’s still a struggle trying to decide what to do with all this stuff. It has been much more difficult than I thought it would. Once I started thinking about selling, donating, or asking other family members what they wanted. I started to realize how truly attached to these things I am.
Now don’t get me wrong it’s not like a hoarding situation or something like that, but somewhere inside I think there’s a little part of me that feels if I get rid of these items it’s doing his memory disservice. I know kind of silly right, but grief is a strange thing, and we all process it in our way.
In February 2021 my mother fell and broke her hip and had to go through the process of replacement surgery in the middle of a pandemic. Her dementia had already progressed quite rapidly during the previous year, in no small part due to the visitation restrictions in place at her retirement home. Unfortunately, after her fall and subsequent hip break, the doctors decided she could no longer manage in a retirement facility and advised she had to move to a nursing home where the level of care was much greater. This would not have been such a challenge except for the fact that we were and still are, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.
My mum spent over 2 months in hospital following her surgery waiting for a long-term care crisis bed. Every time we got close another outbreak would occur and delay the process by 2 weeks. It was heartbreaking as I watched her steadily decline during this period. Finally, after the 4th attempt, she moved, and I set about the process of getting her accustomed to her new living arrangement.
After I was sure she was comfortable and settling in well, I began preparing her house for sale. It was a very hard decision as I didn’t want to sell it at all. I guess some small part of me hoped she would suddenly get better, and everything would return to normal. If only.
Although she only lived in this house for the last 7 years, there were so many memories of times spent together tied to the house. Cups of tea out on the porch while we watched her dog chase squirrels in the enormous yard. Eating fish and chips in her living room watching HGTV or listening to a Jesse Cook CD and chatting about life. Wonderful moments I will always cherish.
Like the process, I went through with my dad I’ve also now inherited many of my mother’s belongings that could not fit into her long-term care room. Two lovely wingback chairs that won’t go down my basement stairs, extra beds, pots and pans, and paintings, side tables, and lamps. As you can imagine my basement currently looks much like a used furniture store.
When I look around at all these items, it’s like seeing a piece of my life, embodied in a series of inanimate objects.
I’ve read many times that keeping too many items from the past is not always healthy for your state of mind, causing you to dwell too much on the past instead of looking ahead. I can relate to that situation, as since all of these items ended up in my home, I have found myself thinking much more about the past than I have before.
With the new year not too far away, I am looking to start fresh and make some decisions about what to keep and what items I need to let go. Giving myself a clear timeline will push me to get on with it instead of playing the delay game. Someone recently gave me a great suggestion that I should take photographs of some of the items and put them in a memory book, that way I’d always have it to look back on in the future.
2022 will be a great year and I am really looking forward to creating new memories, as well as enjoying those of the past.