Most of us would say we don’t really like goodbyes. I don’t. Saying goodbye to the people I love isn’t something I enjoy. Almost two years ago, I said an unexpected goodbye to my mother. It was traumatic. She literally died in my hands. I did everything I could to save her, and I failed. I watched her slip from this world into the next. Even as paramedics worked on her, I knew she was already gone. Even as I called on the name of Jesus, I knew it was goodbye.
I’ve learned a lot of things about my mother since her death. I have gone through her house… every nook and cranny. Attic, cabinets, closets and drawers. Mom had things stowed away in every conceivable space. My mother didn’t grow up with much of anything. She was the much loved daughter of two hard working parents with meager earnings. When she was finally able to have things, she began collecting… everything. That little oriental lady who thinks folks should only keep things that bring them joy, would have met her match in my mother. EVERYTHING my mother had brought her joy. Even if she packed it away for a rainy day that would never come, she would say she still loved it.
That’s all well and good until you die unexpectedly and leave it to your daughter to wade through. My mom used to say, with only a little humor and more disdain, “I won’t be cold in the ground before you and your daddy have the mother of all yard sales.” She was sort of right. We had two yard sales the year she died, but it barely made a dent. Dad and I had some sweet times going through boxes in the attic; unpacking memories and wondering why in the world she kept the things she did. More times than I could count, I said, “Mother! Why?”.
Sometimes it was a nice stroll down memory lane, every once in a while, I’d find something that brought back sweet memories of my childhood, but mostly it was a struggle. Do I just throw away all this stuff? Mostly no one wanted it. Not me, my brother, or our children. We all have our own things, and didn’t have much room for her stuff, too.
We sold Mom and Dad’s house recently. That gave me a crazy deadline. I had to get through the rest of the house in just a few weeks. Every day after work and all day on the weekends, I spent at my parent’s house sorting through nearly 60 years of stuff. I had sweet friends and family that helped me, but mostly I just had to go through it all myself. I loved my mother, and on one hand, it was kind of fun to open the next drawer to see what was inside, but on the other hand, when I do see her again, we are going to have a word!
Today, the house is empty. I stood in the bedroom where I said goodbye to my mom. I won’t be back there anymore. It’s empty. All the stuff gone. I look around in astonishment that it’s really all gone. I know sometimes people claim to have little visits from their dearly departed. My mother has visited me in my dreams, but I wondered if there would be something for me there in that room where we shared our last moments. There was nothing. After a few minutes, Dad and I decided to go. It was done. Nothing left to do.
As we made our way toward the interstate to head across town to my house, the ambulance from the local fire station rushed past us. I rode to the emergency room with my mother in that ambulance. She was gone, but for my Dad’s sake, I wanted her to be pronounced at the hospital. I thought of my mom again when I saw the ambulance. And as it passed by us, I looked up to see another truck sitting at the light ahead of us, waiting to cross our lane. It was a large truck hauling plants. My mother loved plants of all kinds… and on the side of the truck in huge green letters was the word, Bonnie. My mom’s name. I’m not trying to make something out of nothing, but as the truck passed in front of me, I realized that my mother’s life was not wrapped up in that ambulance, but in the things she loved, which of all those things… what she loved the most was her family.