25 Oct Pieces of You
Our family has finally arrived at wanting to start going through my mother’s belongings. The entire house will always feel like she is there and there is not a part of it that I look and don’t see her. I dreaded the day when we would go through her belongings and donate or throw things out. It was a very overwhelming thing to think about and had to figure out where to even start. I decided the best place would be my parent’s bedroom. As strange as it may sound, that is actually the easier room to sort through. The other two bedrooms hold too much sad energy right now as they’re the ones she stayed in when she was sick.
A friend of mine, my best friend of over 25 years, came over to help me clean it out. I am so thankful to her because I wouldn’t have been able to do it myself. We didn’t go through the drawers or anything but we got all the clutter and old items off the floor, dresser, armoire, etc. My dad has finally been able to sleep in there again after a year of not being in there. After my friend left, I took a moment to breathe in and look around. It felt empty but it didn’t feel without love. It didn’t feel like we just threw my mother out or anything. I could still feel her. The room lit up with warm afternoon light that racked across the bed like it was inviting me to take a rest.
A week later, my husband and I came back and sorted through what was removed from the room. Years, decades, of papers were removed. I went through it all to make sure there wasn’t anything important and there was. I found their house deed, old photos, important documents, recipes, etc. The rest of it, like old bills, old credit cards, medical papers and bills, foster parenting letters, notes, and a few others were among what I shredded. I sat there for over an hour shredding all of these documents and I thought to myself, “This is what’s left.” I took a moment to hold back my tears as it felt so weird to know that she was here for 58 years and then here I am shredding things that happened in her life and was a trail of where she’s been and what she had went through.
Even before my mother passed I had thought deeply about dying. Death itself for me is not necessarily scary but just extremely sad. If you know my work then you know I enjoy exploring old houses. I love seeing things of the past and it is so crazy to me how people are just here and then they’re not. I know that is life but it feels so impermanent and really makes me look at my own life differently. What have I done? What legacy will I leave behind? Do I even care about a legacy? I don’t think I’m scared of dying but I’m scared of being forgotten. That’s why I cherish old abandoned houses and buildings because people and things don’t deserve to be forgotten.
After I shredded everything, I decided to hold onto them. As I put the paper in, I had a really clear visual and knew that I needed to photograph it. I kept her shreds separate from all other papers and took them home with me. I had to photograph this image twice because the lighting left before I could get what I wanted, but this image is extremely cathartic for me. It marks a beginning to something really hard to push through but it also marks a beginning to healing in some way.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to title this image. I kept coming back to “What is left” and other titles along those lines but when I completed the editing on this image I had another flash of “Pieces of You” and it felt right. Even though we buried my mother, these tiny pieces of shredded paper felt like ashes to me. Ashes of trails once traveled. My entire body was covered in these papers. It felt overwhelming all over again. Arguably millions of pieces of memories laid across my body, pressed into my skin, and in some ways filled my lungs. I laid there holding what felt like a lifetime.
Before taking the photo, I dug through the bag of paper looking for letters. The shredder did a really great job at destroying anything recognizable as a word but I was able to find some letters here and there. I sorted some of them out and placed them in the paper pile on my body. One spot has my mother’s name and another one says, “I miss you” cradled near my hands. There is not a day that goes by that I do not miss my mother. I have gotten to the point where I have to purposely avoid thinking about her as it is just too painful for me right now. I’m not someone that generally believes in avoidance, but I have been suffering deeply since she got sick. It’s been extremely hard and I have to guard my heart right now to make sure I don’t hold onto sadness forever.