Growing up as a preacher’s kid our family moved around a great deal; living wherever my father was sent to pastor. My siblings and I had learned the routine of “packing up and moving out” long before we dreamed of being a grown up. I can remember my mother folding our clothes and neatly packing them into boxes, carefully marking each box with our names. She would then collect toys, tricycles, bicycles and skateboards and place them into a heaping pile in the front lawn.
I can hear my mother’s voice as she commanded us kids to do what we could to help. ” Each of you are to go out and make sure you still play with or use the toys in the yard. Anything that is not used, is to be placed in a pile, NEATLY, to be donated.”
Six kids, one pile. We always found a need for every Cabbage Patch doll, teddy bear, ball and glove that was in the heap. We would alert mom to our discovery that every toy was indeed a necessity to our lives. My teddy bear, ” Roy”, had a pull string on his back that would say maybe 3 different things….he was worn, stained and tattered, but he managed to move me throughout my childhood, all the way through college. There really wasn’t anything significant ( that I can remember) about Roy, other than he was was simply mine. I’m not sure when and where I lost Roy; if I threw him out when I left college or if he landed in the trash after I got married.
As an adult, I have packed up and moved many times and found myself to be as methodical as my mother had been. I would make piles of ” necessary”, “trash” and “no clue what this is or why I have it”. Packing was second nature to me. Just load me up with suitcases, boxes and a few trash bags; give me a few hours and I will have everything packable, packed, tossed or piled. This has been true for me, except for two times in my life………
August 28, 2000 was the day my father passed away.The hospital room was filled with balloons, cards, flowers and half eaten bags of food. His well-worn Bible, Sunday School Book and notebook all laid on the over bed table beside him. My oldest brother began the process of packing up the room.
” Jessie, go ask someone if we can get a box or something to put dad’s stuff in, Grab a trash bag too from somebody.Is there any of this stuff that belongs to any of us?” My brother had become the well oiled machine my mother had created so many years ago.
October 26, 2002, my mother passed away. The same drill of packing up her belongings, sorting through what was important,what was trash……. But then came the most difficult challenge of all. Going through the house our parents had called home. Pictures covered the walls…the yearly church Olan Mills family portrait for the church directory took up at least two entire walls.School pictures of each child from 1st grade through the cap and gown senior portrait. The pictures of my siblings who had joined the military, each posing with the American flag in the background. I would say our parents were the proudest people in the world. They celebrated our lives with constant reminders of the children they had raises. The fireplace mantel was adorned with football, baseball and tennis trophies we had earned from little league on up. My father’s study was filled with polaroid instant camera pictures taken of each of being baptised in the Jordan River on one of our trips to the Holy Land. Pictures of us teaching Vacation Bible School, singing in the choir and being in character in the annual Christmas Story church play. On his desk was his another worn, tattered Bible.
We, as adult children stood in the house, unsure as to how to pack up the parents who had taught us everything we knew. Finally my sister spoke up and said, ” This is too much for any of us. Why don’t I bring some guys from work and have everything packed up, put in storage and we can go through it later.” That was the best idea she ever had.
What made it difficult for us was not the chore of packing, but rather, the memories that were etched in every single thing in the house. As I turned to walk out, I looked one last time at my daddy’s recliner. Laying on the arm was the remote to his TV. Without a second thought, I grabbed the remote, stuffing it into my purse. My daddy loved to watch the evening news….and the remote was something he always kept on the right arm of his chair….. My youngest brother turned to me and said ” Did you grab dad’s remote? Are you wanting the TV?” ” No, I wanted the remote to have something of his, something that none of us would fight over….” I replied.
Over the years, I have dealt with families at the facility after losing a loved one. Each would say, “I will clean out the room this week Is there any way I can donate some of the stuff in there, like the clothing and other stuff? Sometimes, packing up after losing someone is just too painful. The old saying ” one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” is so very true in dealing with losing a loved one. Every single thing becomes significant, filled with memories. To help the families, I offer boxes…and a trash bag……and tell them to leave anything they don’t want in a pile.