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After five days in the hospital, the doctors advised us we needed to transition her to a rehab facility. We knew the move to the one-room pseudo-hospital setting would be permanent. I traveled across town to the apartment she called home for all of three months and began the tedious process of sorting through her remaining possessions.
During the past ten years she had moved at least five times, casting off various items she deemed unnecessary or outdated as she gradually condensed her collection of belongings. Now her household consisted only of those items most important to her: her bedroom furniture, a leather sofa, coffee table, small dining set, two televisions, a nominal amount of kitchen necessities, and three closets full of Chico’s clothes. This was her version of minimalism.
I filled two boxes with her dishes, utensils, and pots and pans, not knowing where to take them after I sealed them shut. After packing away the kitchen equipment I cleaned the leftover food from the fridge. I knew she could never eat all the food she bought, but I was unwilling to deny her the joy of getting out and shopping for herself. Her days revolved around doctor visits and trips to Wal-Mart.
I looked around the three-room apartment, unsure of where to go next. Finally I decided to venture back to her bedroom and sort through her clothes to determine just exactly what she would need at the long-term care facility and what we should donate to charity. After two hours of sorting through clothing that smelled faintly of her Tuberose perfume, I turned to her dresser and its contents. Within the six drawers she had stored her most prized possessions: pictures from her favorite house in St. Louis, business ledgers outlining transactions from thirty years ago, jewelry originally intended for the safe but mistakenly placed in a zip-lock bag. I found pictures of my children and of my niece and nephews tucked away with her collection of gloves from the 1950’s and 1960’s. As I carefully sorted through unused stationery, I discovered a few pieces of correspondence. I found the wedding invitation I sent her and my father-in-law twenty-one years ago and a flyer from the last home that she owned. As I pulled out a small white box filled with mismatched pieces of costume jewelry, a yellowed piece of lined notebook paper, folded into fourths, caught my eye. I opened it up and read the long, scrawling script of a twelve year-old girl written forty years ago. “Mom, I love you. Let’s never fight again.” As I read the handwritten letter, tears welled up in my eyes, threatening to spill onto the aged paper. I carefully refolded the peace offering and returned it to its hiding place, where it waited for discovery by its author.