I boiled my mother's life down in to 31 boxes. They were stacked neatly in my garage floor to ceiling full of the practical (dishes, towels), the impractical (paperweights, purses) and the sentimental (yearbooks, letters).
Although, I tend to be a very type-A person, I kept procrastinating in the unpacking process. I would go days without opening a box, and then, suddenly, I would feel compelled to go to downstairs to the garage at 9 at night and unpack boxes. But with each box came new revelations. Why did I bring this? Did she really look like that in high school? Was her handwriting really that perfect? Each box proved to be its own mini-journey in itself. Sometimes, one box would take an hour, while others took just a few minutes.
I couldn't figure out why I was procrastinating so much. I am a person who tends to jump headfirst into a project. I have intense discipline when it comes to getting something done. I set personal deadlines and rarely let anyone or anything disrupt my schedule. But in this situation, I was almost paralyzed by my inability to finish.
Yet, as I unpacked the last box this past week, I realized what was taking me so long. As long as I had boxes to unpack, I have memories to relive, explore, and even some new ones to discover. But once the boxes were empty, the tangible elements of my mother's life were disappearing. In a way, it felt like she was disappearing, fading from my memory. I was having trouble remembering her smell, the sound of her voice, the feeling of her arms around me.
This past weekend, I spent time reminiscing about my mother with my cousins, her nieces. I brought with me a few of the items I had unpacked the previous week. We read some of the letters, poems and journal entries that my mother had written. We also read letters written to her by her parents while she was in college.
What I realized was that I don't need boxes to keep her memory alive. Sure, it's nice to look down at my hand and see a ring she used to wear, or to smell her perfume that I've sprayed on a blanket, but she will always live on in my heart.
Eventually, I know that I will be able to recall things about my mother with more smiles and less tears. Grief is like a dark tunnel. Intellectually, you know the other side exists, but when you're smack dab in the middle, you can't see the light. Still, I know it is just around the bend...