“Your room looks like a pigsty. Get in there and clean it up!”
As I stood in the midst of my own adult chaotic mess, I couldn’t help but hear the echo of Mom’s frequent commands throughout my childhood. It was as if my internal replay button jammed,setting off an internal regression to my little girl self. who, once upon a time, used to argue her way out of cleaning her room.
“But Mom, I don’t want to go through these boxes. It’s going to hurt me too much and make me miss you and Dad even more. Can’t you see it’s going to make me cry and grieve all over again? No, I’ll do it later. Okay? I promise, I’ll do it later.”
I kept that inner dialogue going for almost two years in hopes it would help me maintain whatever sanity I had left. It didn’t seem to matter. I was paralyzed with sadness and purposely held off opening any of the bins filled with my parents’ keepsakes and personal belongings. Of course, there were a few exceptions when I would hurriedly look for an old photo or item. I figured the longer I kept the lid down the lesser the likelihood that grief was going to jump out and grab me.
Like a security officer patrolling The Container Store, I kept careful guard over my tightly sealed Rubbermaid bins filled with my parents’ prized possessions. Stacks upon stacks lined the walls of my bedroom and closet, while other smaller boxes were tucked away in cabinets and shelves, barely leaving enough space for my growing family of six.
As each year passed, so too did my sadness, gradually allowing me to replenish the energy and insight to move ahead with the daunting task of sorting through my parents’ history as well as my own. Five years after their passing, my heart was finally ready to divide and conquer. Just when I was about to pat my heart on the back for being so brave, my brain took over. Crap! Look at this. It’ll take you FOREVER to get through it all. What a mess. How are you ever going to begin? Old knick knacks, books, clothes, photos, paperwork…oh my.
Waging war between my heart and mind, I stood there in front of the numerous bins trying to shake off the second round of paralysis that was about to set in. Just as I was about to succumb to my shadow thoughts, my ever-so-tolerant and supportive husband (you know, the man who slept in The Container Store with me for five years?) saw my angst and provided me with one simple hug accompanied by an out-of-the-blue yet profound little riddle.
“How do you eat an elephant?” he asked.
With my head buried in his shoulder, I mumbled through my tears, “I don’t know, how?”
He answered, “One bite at a time.”
Neither of us laughed. Instead, I hugged him even tighter and longer, holding back my tears as I pondered every word of the punchline.
Knowing Mom’s supportive nature, I’m 100% sure it was she who redirected me to an easier way of handling my new “One bite at a time” philosophy. Just as I was about to eeny-meeny-miny-moe my way to the first box, my eyes were drawn to the two mid-size storage containers serving as my temporary nightstand (yes, I said nightstand-don’t laugh). It was as if Mom said, “Look right here. This is where you’re supposed to start.”
Both bins were stuffed with my parents’ old get well, sympathy, and thinking-about-you cards, which were seriously enough to fill an aisle of a Hallmark store. Since Mom was a pro in the greeting card department, with an impeccable history of sending the perfect card at the perfect time, she collected the ones she and Dad received out of joy and respect. As I browsed through the mounds of handwritten love engraved in creative and inspirational stationary, I couldn’t hold back the guilty feelings of having to throw away such meaningful content in the trash-not to mention the cards that had the images of Jesus or Mary on them. Talk about major guilt there.
Overwhelmed and about to call it quits, I immediately felt the jolt of two aha moments. The first one, I believe, was from God, showing me an article I had read many moons ago about how to properly dispose of broken or blessed religious items. The answer was to either burn or bury them.
The other aha was from Mom’s heavenly nudge telling me: “Just do what I did. Remember?” I knew exactly what she was referring to. Immediately, I recalled the night I spent at their house to help with my dad’s post-op care. We had just finished saying the nightly rosary when my chemo- fatigue looking mom started to scoot her way towards the side of the couch where Dad was sitting.
Without hesitation, she abruptly reached for his hand and held it tightly on her lap. It was as if she had instantaneously consumed a gallon of V8 juice.
Energized, her voice full of pep and strong conviction, Mom closed her eyes and boldly stated: “And God bless all those who are praying for us.”
Totally blown away by her last-minute intention, I sat there nodding my Amen.
Look at her, asking God to bless everyone right back, I thought. I’ve never heard her pray this before. Yep, that’s Mom, always others-oriented, always spot-on with her faith. How in the world does she do it?
After reflecting on my recent aha moments, I knew what I had to do. The next evening, I found myself in our front yard driveway, ready to bite off a piece of my gigantic elephant. Just me, some matches, a fire pit, stacks of cards, and a heart full of intention. One by one, I read each card in detail, savoring the beautiful images while meditating on every word, some printed and others handwritten.
After acknowledging the sender of each card, I carefully dropped them into the fire pit. As each flame reached towards the sky, so were my synchronized blessings of love and thanksgiving offered up for the individual who sent the card. After the final blessing was said, I sat there in awe watching the charred remnants- evidence of love from my parents’ past disintegrate before my tear-filled eyes.
I felt relief. I felt peace. I felt fulfilled. My first attempt at “cleaning up my room” was a success, and I knew it. What I didn’t know was that there was a heavenly kudos from Mom waiting for me inside the house.
Right before I was about to take a shower, I noticed a neon orange index card on the floor next my bedside. It must have fell on the floor from the card containers. I recognized the handwriting from afar and immediately knew it was one of Mom’s old cards-the ones filled with random inspirational quotes and Bible verses she used as bookmarks or visual reminders around the house.
It read, “Try to make everything TIDY around you. This is a reflection of Holiness. STRIVE FOR IT.”
This time, there was no need to argue back. I simply answered, “I will, Momma.” Awestruck and a tad giddy, I blew a kiss towards heaven, realizing that both my aha moments- my little release ceremony and my divine notecard message-had been sponsored in part by God and my beloved Mom.