12 non-things I inherited from my mom
When I was 16 my mom passed away, and being her only daughter, I inherited most of her belongings: clothing, jewelry, knick knacks, her old school papers, letters and cards, journals, photos, recipes, kitchen utensils, and her elephant figurine collection. For the first few years after her death I felt comforted to have so many of her things. They felt like pieces of her left behind to buffer me in and take the edge off the loss.
Eight years after my mother died I became a professional organizer. After endless hours of helping clients make endless decisions on endless items, I became utterly disenchanted with possessions, including most of my own.
Suddenly, I was looking at most of my inherited items and asking myself…
- Do I really want all forty-some elephant knick knacks from her collection? That’s a lot to dust.
- Do I really want to keep any or all of the macrobiotic and vegan recipes that my mom had to make when she was battling cancer? My mother lived to eat. Her post-cancer diagnosis diet plan probably bummed her out a lot. Am I seriously honoring her by keeping those recipes?
- Do I really want my mom’s slip dresses? They are beautiful, but I was probably conceived in one of them. Ew. That is not sexy energy to have in my closet.
After years of helping my clients release things that no longer resonate with them, I’ve been able to turn the process on myself and give away most of my mom’s belongings, to family members or charity.
There are some amazing things of my mother’s that I cherish and embrace in my life, including:
- Her wedding ring and other special jewelry pieces
- Five of my favorites from her elephant figurine collection
- Her colorful Shanghai Tang purse (I never use it, I just display it because it’s bright and pretty)
- Her tortoise shell sunglasses
- A cookbook that my aunt and cousin and I made of all of her favorite, pre-cancer recipes
- Ten thousand digital photos that I had scanned from negatives, that I love to peruse with my brother during the holidays
- Her travel journals
- My baby book with all of her notes… Including this little gem, from when I was three years old:
I keep only the items that resonate with me, but life happens: theft, fire, flood… There is no guarantee that these items will stay in my life forever. If they were to be lost or damaged I would be sad, but I would be okay. Here is a list of my favorite things that I inherited from my mom that can’t be stolen, dusted, broken or lost:
- My “Dog Voice”. You know how some people have a bizarre little voice that they reserve for animals? I copied my mom’s.
- An obsession with food. Some eat to live. My mom lived to eat. Our family friend Angela told me once that the two of them talked about food so graphically and hedonistically that people thought that she and my mom were off in the corner giggling about sex. My best friends and I are the same way- our lives revolve around our next meal.
- A fondness for order. When I found my mom’s (ten thousand) photo negatives in the attic two years ago, they were already organized by date, labeled, and ready for scanning. She took a year of work away from that project for me, just by having the discipline in the moment to label.
- The unnecessary dot I put in my last name when I write my signature. “Why do you do that?” I asked my mom one day. “Just ‘cause,” she grinned. She did it just to give it her own flair. Now I do it too, as a little tribute to her.
- A love of composing silly poems, raps and parody songs. Long before I busted out rhymes at networking meetings, my mom was writing raps to perform at her sibling’s rehearsal dinners. I even found some raps of hers recorded on cassette tapes, which are now digitized- I can play them right from my iPod and laugh.
- A love of travel. Our parents were awesome about taking us on trips. We were not wealthy, yet Mom and Dad prioritized accordingly so that we could all do our Out West trip and a 3 month sabbatical in Europe when we were kids. My brother and I were even enrolled in a little school in the English countryside when we were 11 and 6. These memories are far more precious to me than if I had had tons of toys.
- The ability to hold long term conversations with my brothers that are entirely in movie quotes. When we’re all home together on holidays, and especially on family trips, it can get absurd. My mom and her little brother did just this, and funnily enough, from many of the same movies we now quote (big Mel Brooks fans in our family).
- An unfortunate tendency to giggle at the least appropriate time. Even at funerals sometimes. Mortifying.
- A deep love for The Beatles, The Band, The Eagles, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and all things classic rock. Seriously, who needs any other genre? Classic rock is clearly the best ever, and our mother made sure that we knew this.
- The freedom to choose my beliefs. My parents were Episcopalian. We went to church as a family on Christmas Eve and Easter, but when my mom asked me to attend church with her on a regular Sunday, I was allowed to decline. I went through a “witch” phase in middle school (what can I say, The Craft was and still is a great movie, even though it is a terrible representation of what Wicca is all about) and my parents encouraged my exploration by taking me into New Hope, PA to buy herbs, oils and spell books. It was a short lived phase, and my parents probably knew that it would be, but the fact that they let me experiment with unconventional interests has given my natural curiosity validation.
- A positive outlook and a belief that I can do anything I want to in life. My mom and dad attended every play I was in, even when I went to a boarding school three hours north of them. They supported my dream to be an actress- never tried to talk me down- never guilted me with what they could or couldn’t afford. Before that, I wanted to be an ornithologist- they took me bird watching and got kind of into birds themselves. Neither of these career choices panned out, but I can honestly say that I arrived at this career with no stress that I needed approval from my parents.
- A feeling of self worth in low times. I was constantly in trouble for my grades. A lot of this was because mom had breast cancer, and was in and out of remission or the hospital for eleven years, and it was stressful; when I got home I skipped the homework to escape into my forts, my toy horse ranch, or AOL Instant Messenger, depending on what phase of life I was in. When I got a rejection letter from a high school that I had applied to, my mom told me, “Forget them. I don’t want a school who doesn’t want my daughter.” I was floored. My mom made me feel like I was enough, even if I didn’t fit into the grid of what was expected.
These are the things that will never expire.