Daunting Task Of Downsizing Turns Into Exciting Trip Down Memory Lane

By Ana Veciana-Suarez
Tribune News Service

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Beautiful piece by Ana Veciana-Suarez describing what it was like for her to sort through her family’s belongings with her aging father.

Tribune News Service

“Why can’t you wait until I’m dead?” my father asks in a plaintive tone that can reroute rivers.

“Because you’re not dead yet,” I reply, “but I still have to get this done.”

My father and I are sorting through years of papers, books and who-knows-what.

Actually I’m organizing while he’s sitting on the edge of his bed, scowling. A musty smell saturates the room. My eyes water. My nose tickles. And though I’ve been diligent about my allergy meds, our conversation is often punctuated by sneezes and sniffles.

This isn’t a pleasant task, reducing nine-plus decades of a life to a 12-by-12-foot bedroom. Outside the sun is bright, the sky cloudless. Temptation beckons. I can think of a million other things I’d prefer to do, but I grab grim solace from the knowledge I’m not alone in this thankless effort.

My friends and I are at an age, in our 50s and 60s, at the ledge of our own mortality, when we’re forced to change roles with our parents. After a death, or a fall, or a particularly onerous health diagnosis, we have to figure out what to do with their prized possessions, those tchotchkes that colored the background of our childhood but that now, suddenly, turn superfluous. It’s a challenge, no matter how resolute you are, no matter how patient you vow to be.

Some of us end up rifling through our parents’ lives in the fog of mourning, when we inherit a houseful of old furniture and photo albums. One friend spent several evenings in her late mother’s house, picking through closets and drawers. She discovered not only unused items still in boxes but also a whole other level of grief, one fueled by the realization that her mother’s treasures held little value for the rest of the family. Nobody wanted her tacky collectibles. Finally, after almost a month, my friend threw up her hands and hired a professional.

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