Four years after the passing of her parents, Barb Abramson takes a bittersweet walk down memory lane.
Several years ago, after coming to the painful realization that they could not take care of themselves any longer, I moved my parents to an assisted living facility.
I did my best to keep them in their home, hiring caregivers to come by daily for a few hours each day, which was all I could afford. I began cooking their meals and helping out as much as I could, grateful I already had power of attorney for both of them so I could pay their bills and handle other details of their lives. It was exhausting, even with help. Their expenses were greater than their income from pensions and social security. Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Mom had diabetes, congestive heart failure and was on oxygen. Life as they knew it had to change.
It took some time to adjust to the assisted living facility, but I knew it was where they needed to be. Dad was eventually moved over to memory care as his disease progressed. I learned a lot about memories in the process, which has helped me to help others who are caring for people who have dementia.
They passed away within three months of each other, now, nearly four years later, I have begun the process of sorting through all the extra things that ended up at my home after theirs was sold.
Clothes that would not fit in their much-smaller apartment now crowd my closets. Boxes of books and memories I wasn’t ready to explore or let go of still line the inside walls of my garage. The door to my back bedroom is kept closed to hide additional boxes stored there. More of their clothes are strewn on the hide-a-bed couch that used to accommodate guests before my parent’s surplus possessions overtook the comfy cushions.
I finally reached the point of being ready to sift through some of the piles. Grief defies all things rational and rendered me unable to deal with their things. It was painful to go through them, and yet I was grateful to have them.
I started with clothes that were on the couch; Dad’s suits, Mom’s dresses, and various sweaters, blouses and shirts. Some of them were stained, from hanging in the closet too long as well as from wear.
Looking at each piece of clothing was a journey down memory lane. A favorite dress of Mom’s, Dad’s wild floral tie I made him in the seventh grade because I am Jewish and didn’t want to make the class project Christmas stocking.
Then I noticed the white paper peeking out from an inside pocket on one of Dad’s suit jackets. I pulled it out and unfolded the two pages that were stapled together. In my hands was a printout of Mapquest directions to a church in a neighboring city dated May, 2006. A friend of Dad’s had passed away. He had printed out directions to the funeral. In the pocket on the opposite side was the program from the funeral.
I began checking each item of clothing for hidden treasures. The next suit yielded another surprise. A spoof on a song that I grew up with — My Grandfather’s Clock —turned into My Grandfather’s Kit. He’d written it for my son Joel when he was a baby. Dad had put together an assortment of baby products and toys and written this little diddy to go with it. My dad the creative performer! Makes me smile thinking about it.
A man’s suit coat is fun to rummage through — there are so many pockets. Outside ones with flaps, and more pockets nestled away on the inside.
As I continued exploring I found a candy wrapper, its contents long gone. He used to keep them in his pocket during Shabbat services in case he or mom had a scratchy throat or a cough. Speaking of services, two tickets for the High Holiday (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) Jewish Holy Days. They are listed for the year 5767 in the Hebrew calendar, which would be 2006, more than eight years ago now. Two finds from 2006. It must have been the last time he wore suits.
Another wrapper. Antacid tablets. I see any kind of antacid tablets today and still think of him. Dad had what he called a nervous stomach. I think it was just heartburn. He had a penchant for foods like garlic and onions.
A silver paper clip attached to a very young picture of one of my cousins. It is dated April, 1958, the year before I was born. Odd that this was in his pocket. I wonder why he carried it with him.
A pen with the real estate company he worked for so many years ago printed on it. He sold us our first house and gifted us back his commission. A note in the same pocket (written with the pen?) to remember call the library about a book he had on reserve.
I would have loved to sit with Dad on the couch, chatting about the treasures I found and maybe pulling a story or two from him as we laughed about the paper clip and antacid wrapper. I wonder what the book was that he’d reserved, and if he ever read it.
It may seem silly to some, but for me, every memory I discovered in my father’s pockets made me smile and then miss him all the more.
For more of Barbara’s insights on aging parents, and caring for people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia read:
Photo: Flickr/Tim Evanson