I began the process of unmooring my mother’s possessions from their resting places in her apartment. I wasn’t there for her initial downsizing from the house where she lived with my father. He died in 2007 and she shopped around for a place where she could be happy. She found one, but it was too small to accommodate years of accumulated things. I don’ know how she did it but she did. She seemed happy with her new environs.

Since she died a few days ago, just about a week after her 90th birthday, my brother Dave and I have to move her remaining possessions out and vacate the premises within 30 days.

“When an old man dies, an entire library burns to the ground; when an old woman dies, a whole school burns to the ground.” This is an African proverb. It holds a lot of meaning to me. Not everyone dies before giving up his library or her school. The insidious plague of dementia robs many people of their internal ‘books’ and ‘teachings’ before their bodies give out. Mom was luck enough to keep her wits right until the end.


Mom’s library and school, in the form of her books and pictures were there today when I went to her apartment. Being there was like being inside skeletal remains. There was no one there to illuminate the lovely things she found too dear to part with.

Not being able to ask her a question, a fact or a remembrance, is not a catastrophe, but it is a reminder of my loss of a witness to the past.  I now exist without someone who has known me my entire life. Without pictures, there are only stories of my past that I remember. I remember them but they are stories with no life behind them. How many mothers and children love to relate and hear (respectively) about the day the child was born? There is a dynamic in that interaction.

Where to go from here?

This change is another in the continuing shifting sands of identity. Not only sands of identity, but the sands of time, continually leaking from the top bulb of the hourglass.  The proper thing to do would be to concentrate on things of immediate concern.  Ideally, the way to live one’s life as one ages is to be in the moment. No stories of the past, no yearning for the future, just being in the ‘now’.

I understand that is how things should be but I don’t know how to do that.

All that being said, I would love to know the names of the people in this family photograph:

Photography: Historical Picture of Family

Family Photo
Digital Reproduction

Mom told me some names when I came for her 90th birthday party, but they didn’t seem like what she said before. I didn’t write it down back then.

7 thoughts on “Dismantling

  1. I particularly like your description of losing a “witness to the past.” I lost my parents and grandparents by the time I was 41–it felt strange to be in the world without them. Five years ago, my eldest sister passed away–sometimes I still get a stabbing pain of missing her. She was my witness to the past, our shared parents, shared memories. It seems even stranger to be in a world without her.

    My condolences on the loss of your mother.


    • Thank you for your condolences and your comment. The world must seem a lot emptier and strange. Im sure that people relate about similar experiences, but there is something about sharing the exact same memories with another that adds a much more satisfying dimension to the experience. One needs third party to triangulate for a rich appreciation of the world.
      Thanks again.


  2. Similar thoughts have been circulating in my head since November when my grandmother passed away (at 91). Why do we keep the things we keep and do the people who sift through them after we are gone have any clue to the meaning behind them or why we clung so tightly to certain possessions? As my mother and sister and I went through my grandmother’s belongings, it was interesting what we each chose to keep and what we chose to donate or trash. I chose a set of dessert cups that I remember having lime jello in each and every time I visited. My sister a ceramic shoe that sat on my grandmother’s counter for 40+ years. They certainly weren’t the things she would have thought worth the most, but they were the things that reminded us of her. Keep the photographs and make up stories if you must. I’d say there must be a Rosa in the picture above. Perhaps a Josef? Again, I am sorry for you loss, your statement of losing the last person who has known you your entire life is a heartbreaking one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Dina. I think there was an Abraham in the picture. Mom thought, when I asked her a couple of weeks ago, that one of the people in the picture was herself. Another relstive thinks that figure was my mom’s mother.

      Yea, the idea that one is less known (and frequently) less understood as one ages is something to think about ahead of time, to come up with a coping strategy in time ti deal with it.

      So happy you commented.


      Liked by 1 person

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