I took a journey through the past today. It wasn’t something I planned when I began my day. It is tax season. My filing cabinets are overflowing with old papers that have nothing to do with taxes or my writing. They were bits and pieces of life thrown into the cabinet and forgotten.
I have been watching Marie Kondo. Was there anything in my filing cabinet that would spark joy or would I find old pieces of paper that meant nothing?
I pulled out a folder. It was the tax information and legal papers I needed back in the early 2000’s when I took care of my mother’s affairs while she was in the nursing home suffering from dementia.
Why did I keep this folder for 16 years? I made the choice to shred all the information in the folder. I did not see a reason to keep them anymore.
Let me give you a little background on my mom and my relationship with her. I was an only child. My dad died in 1971 so it was my mom and I for all those years. We didn’t always get along. I was born when she was in her 40s and we didn’t see eye to eye on life. I didn’t understand her and she didn’t understand me, but she always had my back. Through our tiffs and struggles we both knew we loved each other and we had each other’s back. Until at least, dementia reared its ugly head.
My mother was in her late 80s when I knew something was wrong. She began to accuse me of things I didn’t do and say terrible things about me to other people. She would call other people over and over again. She would try the same pair of shoes on within a short time, not remembering she had just had them on.
All her affairs were in order. I had power of attorney so I could make decisions for her. She made those arrangements when her mind was good. Unfortunately, when dementia set in she tried to give the power of attorney to strangers. To make a long story short I had to go to court and be declared conservator so I could take care of her and make decisions. I had to report everything I did to the courts. And I was fine with that but because of it I had so many papers.
I turned on music from my high school years as I was shredding. I looked at the papers one by one. I found a report I forgot about that was made when my mom reported her car stolen. Luckily our local police chief was used to dealing with my mom and her dementia. I suspect the stolen car report went nowhere because he knew the state took her driver’s license away because of her dangerous driving. I took her car away because she was driving her car after her license was pulled. She reported it stolen.
I do have a funny story about that. I happened to be at our car dealership getting my car fixed when she tried to rent a car. Luckily in a small town they also knew she wasn’t supposed to be driving. She wouldn’t give up. She had friends who felt we were wrong taking her car away, even though her driving and memory was bad. They drove her back and forth 14 times to retake her written driving test. She finally passed. I’m not sure if she really passed or if they were tired of her and passed her knowing she would not pass the physical driving test. She didn’t even last a block before the test person turned her back. But she still insisted she passed the test.
As the shredder ran and the music from good days during my teenage years played, I found myself crying. Silently the tears fell down my cheeks. So many memories of good times when I was young mixed with the time where I didn’t know if I would survive the hurt of what was happening with her dementia in her later years. But here I am 16 years later shredding the past. I survived. The feeling of love for my mom survived.
I think there was a reason I waited so long to shred those final papers. I wasn’t ready to let it all go until now. Letting go of the memories that the papers represented felt as if I were putting the hurt of that time where it belonged— in the past. All of those memories were a part of my journey with my mom.
I was able to smile at her stubbornness of letting go of the independence a car represented and the stolen car report. I marveled at the low cost of health care 16 years ago. I could read her letters of anger and put it in perspective with the disease and not take it personally. Little by little I remembered as the papers moved through the shredder.
Dementia stole the mom I knew, but after she got the care she needed in a stable environment which settled her angry moods, I found a new mom, one who was funny and interesting in the new way she embraced life.
As I put the last paper in the shredder I sat back and listened to my music and remembered how blessed I was even during the final scary years of her life. I knew my mom would never choose to forget me.
Sixteen years later the papers are gone but my memories remain of the good times, the bad times, and the in-between, but now I feel free of the burden that I didn’t do enough. Maybe we should “shred our life” more often.