54: Broken Glass

54: Broken Glass

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

Broken Glass

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.

~From the television show The Wonder Years

When my mother passed away, I was left in charge of her affairs. Grief-stricken, a few days after the funeral I drove to her house to assess the clean-up aspect of my job, as well as to take a peek into who my mother was.

My mother loved her things. Growing up in poverty, she vowed to never want again. As I looked around her home, filled with expensive collections and miscellaneous things, I realized that she had overly compensated for the needy little girl inside her.

Our relationship was never smooth. Emotional limitations affected her mothering, and I had a strong will that always rubbed my mother wrong. Things got worse when I became a teenager. Then my father died and my mother was left adrift in a sea of loneliness that eventually became an unreasonable bitterness. Our fragile relationship suffered even more.

Before my mother was diagnosed with her terminal illness, we had finally, blessedly, reached an accord. During the last days of her life I took care of her, and in the end there was nothing but love between us. We had accomplished a true level of karmic forgiveness—and I am eternally grateful for that.

So as I rummaged through her dresser drawers and closets, her things seemed to comfort me, even as it made me sad to think about how all her prized possessions would never be hers again.

For months I organized, sorted, boxed and arranged for the eventual estate sale. The man who was running the sale came to stick price tags on all the items. I chose not to be there that day, or during the day of the sale. I didn’t feel I could handle someone bargaining for a lower price on my mother’s “priceless” possessions.

A few days before the sale, I went to my mother’s house to drop something off. I walked in and headed up the stairs, but I was not prepared for the scene that awaited me.

There were hundreds of neon orange and yellow tags everywhere. All my mother’s things had been reduced to penciled-in dollars and cents. The white couches my mother loved and worried over each time the grandchildren visited, her cherished Lladro collection, the old sewing box that she had since she was 14, the dishes she ate from only months ago. Now mere items in a sale, they were no longer really hers. Soon to belong to nameless, faceless people who would never know her but would use her things and call them their own. I felt like a traitor, somehow having a hand in the evil deed of cheapening these memories with meaningless price tags.

Breathless and numb, I needed to find one space that didn’t have a tag screaming out, horrifying me. There was nowhere to go; tags mocked me from every room. I stumbled into the bathroom that was blessedly empty. I glanced at my reflection in the mirror and saw dark rivulets of mascara-stained tears. I collapsed on the floor and looked out the door that led into my mother’s room, and I saw the antique bench that used to be my grandpa’s. A $20 tag hung from one of its etched handles. I remember my mother telling me years before that the bench had reminded her of her father because it had sat at the foot of his bed. It had reminded her of him, and now that bench reminded me of her.

My grief grew to include the loss of my father, the loss of my grandma and grandpa, and then finally back to the fresh loss of my mother. Every one of those dear people haunted me as I sat on the bathroom floor.

Blindly I reached for my cell phone and called a friend. I was sobbing so much that she could hardly understand me. After she consoled me for about 15 minutes, I was able to hang up, wash my face and leave my mother’s home, never to see those items again. At my car, my hand trembled and I couldn’t unlock the door. I needed my mother to reassure me, to comfort me. But I was alone in the driveway and my heart was aching desperately.

Without thinking, I raced back into the house, ran up the stairs and straight into my mother’s bedroom. I grabbed my grandpa’s bench, raced back out and stuffed it into my car.

I cried on the entire drive to the storage space that I had rented for all the items I was keeping. I was emotionally and physically exhausted when I got there and opened the door. Boxes and boxes of unsorted pictures, crystal and china, my mother’s cherished tea cup collection, all welcomed me and gave me a bittersweet comfort.

I added my grandpa’s bench and as it slid between two stacks of boxes, I heard a dull crunch, and then breaking glass. Horrified, I pulled out the frame that held my parents’ wedding portrait from 1959. My beautiful, young, happy parents looked at me through a spider web of cracked glass. I ran my fingers across the broken glass and carefully brushed away the splintered patch in front of their faces. As I saw them smiling at me, I no longer felt alone in that cold storage space.

I realized then that my mother’s things—tagged and ready to be sold—were like a pane of glass in a frame. Palpable, breakable, and replaceable. Something fine and pretty that only serves to cover the truer, more meaningful and beautiful picture underneath.

I smiled for the first time that day. Marveling at how simple it was, I felt my heart releasing her things and it felt good to finally let them go so that they could bring joy to someone new. The metaphorical glass that I had surrounded my mother in had broken into a million pieces and had fallen away. I no longer needed those tangible things to connect me to my mother. She was firmly—unbreakable and irreplaceable—in my heart forever.

~Amy Schoenfeld Hunt

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