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Friday, October 3, 2008

Is that all there is....Grandma's Suitcase

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

This is a song by Peggy Lee. I never heard the song but my mother made reference to it the other night.

The night we opened the suitcase.

It is a black suitcase, unmentionable in fact, except for the contents.

My Grandma's suitcase.

My Grandma died April 27th, 2007. I was in the midst of my illness and never really believed she would die. In fact I was sure she was the only person that would live forever.

She was 94, still drove everywhere and worked handing out little samples in the supermarket.

Frequently a box would show up at my door filled with little boxes of cereal or snack bars.

She stole them.

In her defense she believed I needed them more than the little old ladies shopping in Publix in Hollywood, Florida just south of Fort Lauderdale.

I was her favorite. And she let everyone in the family know it.

To defend her(again)I was her favorite because I loved her and was very nice to her. I called her to tell her about the kids, sent her gifts for her birthday and the holidays and spent time with her when she came to visit.

She was a difficult person to get along with (see blog The Muriel Rule).

In February of 2007, she was living in her apartment, working, playing mah jong with her friends, driving around and just enjoying life. She always told me how lonely she was and I felt sad for her for that. My Papa had been dead for almost 17 years and her sisters had been dead for years and one by one her friends had died off as well.

Most people who want to live forever I think underestimate the loneliness when all your loved ones are gone.

My cousin was getting married in Seattle and she wanted to go. She flew off to Washington State and made her grand entrance at the wedding. This was her favorite moment in history when she could have all the attention on herself.

The trip was too much. The flight, the wedding, the hotel... all too much for her.

She came back very sick. And she went downhill fast.

Her kids decided that she could not live alone anymore. She wanted to die if she couldn't. They insisted. She fought back. They told her it would be great.

And then she gave up.

My aunt and my mom got her set up in an assisted living.

She hated it.

They brought what they could to the assisted living and they left the rest behind.

They tried to make it homey, but it just wasn't the same.

My aunt was cruel and treated my grandmother and her stuff like it was crap.

My mother wasn't strong enough to fight my aunt, her older sister.

My grandma wanted to die as soon as she got there. They took away her teeth and her silver shoes and her designer bag and replaced it with house coats and Depends and lots of medication.

She went in strong and independent and in the span of just two months became incoherent and sickly.

I tried to call her and tell her about the kids,about me,and tell her I loved her but she couldn't hear me because they took away her hearing aids.

I sent her a package with a robe, slippers and pictures. She never got it.

She died, alone and sick.

She wished herself to death. She told my mom that she was done. She was sick of living and wanted to be with my Papa.

Everything she owned was packed into boxes, where it sat in my mean aunts garage until it was moldy and broken and neglected.

Months went by.

My uncles wife decided she needed to step in and get between my mother and my aunt who by this time could not even speak without screaming at each other.

She went into the garage, divided up my grandmas belongings and gave each sibling the stuff.

In reality I am sure my aunt took what she wanted, my uncles wife took what she wanted and they left the crap for my mother.

They packed it into a box and gave it to her, mold and all.

My mother went through it, threw out the things that were unsalvageable(is that a word)and packed it into the suitcase.

The one that we unpacked on Rosh Hashanah.

It has been there since last April 2008 when my parents returned from their winter getaway. And we were gonna open it on Passover.

But we were avoiding it.

Until the New Year, Rosh Hashanah, before Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, the day to look forward not back, to leave the past sins of the previous year behind.

So we unpacked the suitcase.

And as you see in the picture, it was just a bunch of crap.

And it made my mom so sad because none of it meant anything to my grandma. None of it reminded us of her life and how she lived.All of that was stolen by my aunt and my uncles wife.

She used to give her things away when she was alive because she said she wanted to see us use it.

When I was living in Jacksonville, I could not for the life of me find a menorah for Chanukah. She sent me hers from Israel and I still use it to this day. I also have her seder plate and Elijahs cup.

And of course I have the ring. The onyx and platinum ring that was my grandmas that my mother gave to me on my graduation from high school that I refused to give away so instead started a new tradition and gave my girls new ones. It says on the inside Grandma to Muriel 1928, my grandmas 16th birthday.

And it is all I really have of hers that is with me every minute of everyday. I never take it off. It connects me to her and to my past and my history in a way that nothing else could.

But is that all there is...is life just about what ends up in a cardboard box at the end of your life.

When hubby went into the Navy, he left everything behind. When he came home the contents of his room was reduced to one single cardboard box. That is how he came into this marriage. With just some old crap.

We have built a life here. We have 8 rooms in this house filled with stuff not including the garage.

There are pictures and books and clothes and furniture and figurines and of course, a whole room of my collectible old retro toys.

And in the end it will not be about this stuff. The stuff I have collected over the years, the stuff we bought when we probably couldn't afford it, the stuff that in the end will maybe make it to the cardboard box.

It has absolutely no meaning.

The things that we all think are so important now, will just be in a suitcase somewhere waiting to be opened. Or they will be sold at a garage sale or on eBay. Or just tossed in the garbage, like my aunt did to most of my grandmas stuff.

The only thing that cannot be reduced to a cardboard box or tossed like old garbage is a memory. A moment in time that cannot be replaced. A connection with someone you love so strong that it is forever implanted in your brain...

The night we got engaged, my wedding, each of my kids births, our cruise, mine and hubby's anniversary trip to the city, the girls first steps, when they left for college, the winning point at the buzzer in the basketball game, the concert at Lincoln Center...

No one can hold these hostage in a damp, humid garage or throw them out or pack them in a cardboard box...

And yes of course I wish I had more money to pay the bills or make our lives a little easier but if it comes to the choice of saving for a rainy day or spending the day doing something with my kids...

There is no choice for me...

I don't need any more stuff for my box.

Its filled with love and memories and a life full of joy and those things don't take up space in my box...

They take up space in my heart...

And there is always room there for more...