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Well, We Did It.

November 28, 2009

Today was the day we cleaned out my deceased half-brother’s room.  My mother had spent 5 hours on Wednesday tossing out 7 loads of trash from it.  The room, in a sad rooming house, was a mess.  He had lived there for a year but the dust and refuse looked more like it had been piling up for 3 years.  It was incredibly eerie just walking up the stairs.  My mother had told us how dirty it was so we stopped at a drug store on the way for latex gloves and breathing masks.  I had to brace myself when she opened the door.  The room was very hot and very lonely.

Even with all the junk my mom had already gotten rid of, there were about 12 more boxes to go through.  It looked as though my brother kept every receipt, letter, and drawing he ever had.  There were cigarette butts all over the floor.  Mom had already cleaned out the little mini-fridge filled with yogurt and rotten broccoli.  My darling husband and I set about picking through the dusty stacks of comic books.  There must have been hundreds of them.  Bill also had hundreds of paperbacks and books on architecture and drawing.  There were dirty socks under the filthy twin mattress.  There was a bar of soap and a razor.  There was a lot of pornographic magazines and videos.   Even though it seems that Bill was living in poverty, there was a two month old uncashed checked for $437 from Marvel comics.  There was a bus schedule from 1991.  And a fan letter.  Someone had written to Bill an undated letter telling him what a great artist he was and how much he enjoyed Bill’s work.  The letter writer invited Bill to visit him in California if he was ever there and requested an autograph.

My mother wanted to save so much.  She took home Bill’s clothes, washed them, and donated them to a rescue mission.  She is keeping all of Bill’s drawings for now, though it is hard to tell which are original and which are photocopies.  I kept arguing with her about things to throw away.  Why was she saving an old People magazine from 2001?  We over-filled 3 large boxes with books.  We have scheduled someone to come pick them up.  Either they can sell them, donate them, or throw them away.  We filled another 2 large boxes with comic books.  The funny thing was, my mom wanted to throw away the comics and other books.  We had to convince her that someone could actually use them, that they might be of some monetary value.  She keeps telling us that she doesn’t want, doesn’t deserve, any money from his “estate.”  We have a comic book merchant coming out to look at the collection.  I told my mom that if he gives her any money for them she can donate it to a charity or create a scholarship in his name at an art school.

After 2 hours we were all spent.  My mother had definitely reached her end point and didn’t even want me going through the last box.  I finished it quickly while she waited downstairs.  After we loaded up the car we went to see the medical examiner.  She had photos of the deceased Bill that my mother thought I wanted to see.  I had already seen what he looked like on an old ID card and didn’t exactly have a burning need to see more, but I think mom wanted to see the pictures again.  The medical examiner was an amazingly compassionate woman.  She was obviously a great comfort to my mother during the week of Bill’s death and found their story compelling.  I reluctantly looked at the photos.  Bill had very nice teeth.  The medical examiner asked me what I was feeling.  I had tears, but no words.  I still don’t.  Right now, I don’t want to know anymore.  I don’t want to hear anymore, talk anymore about it, or see any of his stuff piled up in the hallway of my mother’s home.

As I type this entry my mother is on the sofa next to me going through his papers.  She is paying her penance for not being in his life.  I don’t have a penance to pay.  I am selfish, and I am wishing this Thanksgiving trip home did not include a visit to a dusty, tragic, mysterious and pain-filled room.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2009 7:03 pm

    That has to be one of the most surreal experiences one could ever imagine.

  2. November 28, 2009 8:48 pm

    If this had been a fictional short story, I would be congratulating you for a telling a wonderfully rich tale, replete in every description and feeling.

    But, this is your life and so, I am keeping you and your mother in my thoughts. I must tell you, though, Maija, before I burst with holding it inside, that you have an amazing gift. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  3. November 30, 2009 7:39 pm

    Sometimes you don’t need words, tears are just enough. I am sorry for your loss and your Mother’s loss. The act of cleaning up after the deceased is definitely a surreal experience. Cindy O is right, you do have an amazing gift of putting the emotions and detail into a well-told accounting. Take care! xo

  4. mjjaaska permalink*
    November 30, 2009 11:35 pm

    Elliott, Cindy and Miragi: thank you so much for your words of support, encouragement, and acknowledgement. They mean more to me than you know.

  5. December 2, 2009 3:16 pm

    What can be said about this experience…

    I hope that sharing it can ,in some small way, help you deal with it all.

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