What we leave behind
FARGO — I spent 16 hours browsing, sorting, and disposing her belongings. It was exhausting, educational, impactful and surreal. I finished with sore muscles, a deeper appreciation for her life, and a thought to share with you.
My aunt Janie passed away Sept. 16, 2018, at the age of 89. Her goal was to live to 100, and we always said if anyone could “will their way” to a longer life it was Janie. She was an overcomer, having had polio since childhood. She spent two years at a children’s hospital; the scenes you see depicted where 40 kids are all in one big hospital room was her experience. She only saw her siblings a handful of times during those years. Her father had passed away and her mother could only afford the bus fare to visit her once a week.
Janie was never married nor had children. Other than her brother, my uncle Bud, who is 88, my sister and I are her next of kin. My sister and her husband have lived next door to Janie for 30 years and helped her immensely; particularly in recent years as she aged and desired to stay in her house. I lived 240 miles away so my help was minimal.
Her house has been primarily unoccupied for the last year. So, after she passed I told my sister I would take care of cleaning her house. I did so to lighten the burden my sister has faithfully carried. What I didn’t expect was what the experience did for me.
Janie loved candles and candle holders. I found hundreds. She had over 500 buttons; wearing a unique one every day of the year. She loved to write and receive cards. I found drawers full of unused cards ready to be written. I found thousands of cards and notes she received.
She loved Christmas. I found enough Christmas placemats, hand towels, tablecloths, bows, wrapping paper and decorations to supply an entire neighborhood.
I found a closet and drawers full of pictures. She certainly loved my sister, me, and our kids.
She had copies of every column since I started writing them two years ago. I found letters written by my grandfather 80 years ago. I found his honorable discharge papers from the U.S. Army after World War I. I found a presidential letter of appreciation for my grandfather’s service signed by former president Lyndon B. Johnson.
Janie worked in administration for Minneapolis Public Schools for over 30 years and I found a flexible folder with all the documents she saved when she retired. What was in there? Only jokes! Funny memos, stories, cartoons and pictures. Janie loved to laugh with her friends and family.
I found a folder with cards, notes, pictures and memories from the evening her church surprised her with a “This is your life…Janie Hauser.” Janie taught Sunday School for toddlers for over 50 consecutive years. She retired only because she could no longer navigate the stairs to the basement classrooms.
I now realize that our stuff indicates much about our lives and priorities. So, when your life’s belongings are all sifted through what themes will your stuff depict? Are they depicting what you want your life and legacy to be? Simply something to think about.