I don't know if I've already talked about this, but you know...I've been hit on the head. And you all have actual lives of your own, so you don't need to remember the details of mine anyway...
We are at the juxtaposition of several milestone events in our life. Katie, our last child, just turned 18 and she'll be going to college next year. Sage, our old red Chow dog, is 11. She's severely arthritic and in declining health. Katie and Sage have a love for the ages, and Katie has declared her intention to take Sage with her when she goes away to college, even though Sage is unlikely to live much longer than Katie's first semester or two.
Also, Lori is anticipatorily bereft at the death of Cuppy, our one-eyed phlegm-fastic Devon Rex cat. She's unable to even consider the possibility of that day, and has instead decided that Cuppy too will be going away to college with Katie. "Going to college with Katie" has become our euphemism for death. Someday Lori and I will be going to college with Katie, and we're determined not to leave our lives in such a fucked up mess as my mother is leaving hers for me.
Yesterday we discussed the implications of the day when my mother Goes to College With Katie...how we'll either have to get into that house and sort through the mountains of crap, or just burn the place to the ground. Lori told me about her grandmother who started giving away the things she valued most at the end of her life, so they would end up in the hands of the person who would also value them most after her death. I love that idea. I love the idea that towards the end of your life you can set down the anchor of physical possessions that trap you into a particular way of living, and walk your last few steps unburdened. I love the idea of coming into the world with nothing except potential greatness, and going out with nothing except memories of a life well-lived. In between, we're all free to choose how we define those things for ourselves.
To me, there's not much that's more irritating than adults who are still processing the minutia of their childhood well in their adulthood. At some point we have to look at our parents, acknowledge that, despite their flaws, they did the best they could with the tools they had, and forgive both them and ourselves.
I have, I think, mostly stored my childhood away peacefully. I'm pretty happy with who I am today; I'm proud of my own kids, and I think I mostly did a good job raising them; and I love my life with Lori more than I've ever loved any time in my life before. So what I want to say to my mother is that this is her chance to stand in the doorway of her life. Look at it from the outside and acknowledge your successes and failures and your impact on the world. Pat yourself on the back for the things you did right and forgive yourself for the things you did wrong.
Then look at it from the inside. Remember all the times you made yourself be brave, the times you went out of your way for someone, the times you were able to dig deeper and persevere longer than you ever thought you could. Celebrate your strengths, and the strengths you've passed on to your children.
Then get rid of all that shit. It won't protect you from death. Get rid of that fucking paperweight of a motor home, the broken lawn furniture, the rusty bicycles, the mountains of magazines... Let it all go. It's all going into a dumpster as soon as the ambulance pulls down the driveway and starts you on your journey to college with Katie. Amassing more mountains of useless crap at the end of your life will not make you live longer, nor will it improve your legacy among the people who knew you best. You'll never be able to make a fortress of possessions around you that will be strong enough to cheat death.
Like so many of the object lessons of my life, this one comes from the "If I can't be a good role-model, at least I can be a horrible warning" school of thought: The only person we're ever in competition with in life is us. It won't do anyone any good to get one more lick in at the end. Put down your possessions, tell the people you care about how much you love them, and how much you've enjoyed having them in your life. And then forgive yourself. You did the best you could.