"Well . . . I liked the swirls in this one and the pattern of the holes on that one."
"Mmmmmmm . . ."
"Sue, it's okay to keep them if you like them. Besides, they're really small. I can just put them in with the jewelry."
Driving over, visions of of macro-packing danced in my mind. Kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, living room, linen closets, tchotchkes, wall hangings—anything and everything that wouldn't be needed between now and the not so distant moving day. I bounded into their little rental house, greeted the dog and Sue, shouted hey to Sue's daughter-in-law busy out on the back porch, stashed my stuff, and took a good look around.
Ah, hell. They're not there yet.
Take it down a notch.
Sue's daughter, Beth, wanders downstairs doing her best to look well enough to help.
"Not as bad as yesterday."
Yesterday she'd only gotten up to pee.
"Have you decided on a cleaning company for the new place?"
"I'm going to do that today."
We would come back to this discussion a couple more times between her trips back upstairs to rest. The outcome would never change. I wanted to take the list, choose a company that would use green products, and get the cleaning scheduled. Relinquishing control of this decision was something she couldn't do. As much as I wanted to do this for her, I couldn't ask her to let it go. She needed to believe she could do it.
"I noticed a list with my name on it. Where do you want me to start?"
"It started out as a list for you but then I switched to writing things down so I wouldn't forget them."
"Where should I start?"
"These boxes and baskets are for Mom to go through to decide if stuff is for the yard sale, going into storage, or for the new place."
I grab a box, haul it in from the porch, and Sue begins to give me individual items instructing me where each is going.
I start to toss it and am stopped by Beth's voice.
"No. Free stuff for the yard sale."
"It's one shoe lace. Are you serious?"
"Someone might need it. If it doesn't go, we'll throw it away then."
Sue is 74; Beth is 47. Their bodies have both turned traitor making it necessary for them to move to a one-story home. Sue has lived in this little house for over 12 years since her divorce. She doesn't want to move. Her landholder has made sure every inch of the property, inside and out, is well-maintained year-round. Those responsibilities will now fall to her again. Her bigger concern is her great-granddaughters. This is the only stable home they've ever known. They are heart-broken that this won't be the place they come to anymore; she is worried sick about them. The reality is she can't get upstairs any more—she hasn't slept in her own bedroom for close to two years.
Almost three years ago Beth flew back east for a funeral and was never well enough to fly home. Her west coast friends packed and shipped her belongings for her. Many of those boxes are still sitting unopened and unexplored in her brother's barn. She is eager to move off the busy roadway into a quiet neighborhood so her light and sound sensitivity will abate. She's looking forward to finally having space to unpack all her possessions and surround herself with her treasures. She needs a space she can finally call home again.
"How about these Christmas ornaments, Sue?"
"My mother's artwork."
"Do you still want to keep them?"
"I don't need . . . oh, better hold onto them. Beth will want them."
For five hours I pick up piece after piece of minutiae, listen to its history, then move it into its designated box or bag. When Sue and Beth are done in, I make my way around the room giving and receiving hugs.
"Thank you sooooooooo much. You have no idea how helpful this has been."
"You're welcome. I'll call to let you know when I can come back next week."
I leave feeling as though I haven't begun to be helpful. So few boxes were actually fully packed, closed, and labeled. So much more is left to be done in a very short period of time. I feel I've somehow failed them. During the hour it takes to drive home, I turn these thoughts over in my head until I realize I didn't fail them. If I failed anyone, I failed myself.
I made a mistake by going into the situation with a vision of what I believed the outcome of a day of packing should look like. More importantly I forgot these women aren't much different from me. Unforeseen circumstances have forced them to ask for more help than they ever thought they'd need. To a woman, each of us finds this excruciatingly difficult.
*Sue & Beth are pseudonyms to protect the anonymity of these women.