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  • Writer's pictureMary Balistreri

Swedish Death Cleaning, Part II (The Last Grief Blog)

As I continue to wade and write my way through All the Stuff (see part I), my brain swims into the dense ocean of my life. It sticks to the algae and the moss. It rubs against shipwrecks and live creatures: lantern fish, eels black and slick, turtles joyously swimming, penguins, beavers, and distorted figures from my past which barely stream into focus.

Some of the creatures evoke comparisons to stuffed and real animals from my life. Others flutter at the edges of my mind preferring to live in mystery. All of this imagery is the result of Swedish Death Cleaning which is alive and well in my house. Lessons being learned. Dirt covering cherished items waiting to be brushed away and what-the-hell-is-this items vying for my attention. What decisions will I make? Keep it. Transform it. Or discard it.

Why am I keeping this program from a play Mom and I saw in the 1980s? I know, because Willem DeFoe was in the play, but so what? Why did I hang that shiny, fuchsia racquetball racquet on my wall? I know, because I used it to play with Ann and it is a fun and funny memory. After I took pictures of all these pictures to digitize them for use in a memorial slideshow, why won't I throw away the originals? I know, because, love and memories and bittersweet memories.

At the start of this process eight months ago, "in case someone may want this..." shouted in my mind as a reason to keep everything. Now, that phrase is just a whisper in my thoughts and a momentary flutter in my heart.

I am ready to let go and move forward. This is the last grief blog.

Grief is a process: I don't believe I am done grieving. I carry grief forward with me now, where before grief carried me. Thank you, grief.

Ann & mom (and Bette and Sammi and my mother-in-law Lynn, and Big Vee - Ann's husband who passed away in 2016) live in a different world from me now. They float through my mind in a variety of ways:

  • Photos: Still photos where the background disappears leaving behind the imprint, the trace of the memories..

  • Still photos that become movies of Ann dancing, swimming her arms to and fro, darting her gorgeous dark eyes back and forth to take in everything she could experience, Or mom playing the piano, wiping the sweat from her brow and upper lip as she returns to reality having been momentarily lost in her imaginary world of music.

  • Short movies of Ann, mom and me singing along to a Christmas album that evoked memories of our childhood. It was haircut day just before Christmas. We joined each other at the table wearing our holiday long-sleeved tees, heads bowed, singing together. Our voices joined in love and harmony that day, the last time we shared haircuts together.

  • Visions of our visits with Aunt Bette where in my mind I relive the calm energy of her love, the full-throated laughter of her voice, and the taste of the broccoli salad served in the pink crystal dish gifted to me by Eileen and Mary Pat after Bette went to live in that world where Ann just traveled.

  • Memories of the playful buzzing sounds Sammi made when she played with her boy, my boy, our Owen. The happy laughter and bright squeals of Owen's voice as he romped after Sammi in glorious joy.

This is the space my mind, heart, and body live in now. I am more happy than sad. But what about the Swedish Death Cleaning?

Lessons from the Swedish Death Cleaning:

  1. New Projects: While I was shredding, cleaning, making piles to keep, and tossing items, several new projects rose up to slow me down. Recipes - Before I dispose of the many cookbooks filling my cabinets, I recognize the need to go through the books and pull out the most loved, most used recipes and put them somewhere. Somewhere neat in a book? In a notebook? In a binder? It's a project. My own writing to read - I was a journalist for a number of years. I have written articles, stories, biographical pieces - and I kept them all. Time to sift through, save those I may use or adapt, toss those who no longer have a purpose. Another project. The "In case of our death" folder - I created this type of a folder soon after Ann's death. As I wade through all the paperwork, I add items. I have a list of things that are missing. It's a big project.

  2. Don't give in to false urgency: At the beginning, the death cleaning felt like an urgent project. Do it all now, Mary! I screamed at myself. The urgency partly came from the feeling that my death was imminent. Or Steve's death. Or everyone I know and their deaths. All reactions to Ann's death. Now, existing in my new space of lightness and airiness, I reject the urgency. I will continue this project at the pace I set and all will be well.

  3. Like grief, it's process. Even as I examine all of my stuffed animals and debate with myself over which ones I can release, questions form based on the life around me that happens right now, every single day. What about all the new stuff trying to come into my house? What about the new memories we make? Owen's 23 birthday was just last week. New pictures. New stuff. New heartfelt cards.

What will I do with all of this? Put it in the new blog. Introducing Little Things: A blog about the little everyday things that make me happy. Maybe they make you happy, too.

I plan to keep this blog live until the time runs out on the web site. Feel free to continue to share it with anyone who might need or enjoy it.

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