Clearing a Family House – Safeguarding the Memories

Mary Brown IMG_4373 sq2


My inspirational and lively mother passed away last week, on Wednesday 5th August, after a short illness. I have already started her story of course, and will share that when it’s ready. Mum passed in a marvelous hospice near the home she loved which she had filled with laughter, love and joyous and beautiful things for 25 years.

This is the first time I’ve ever had to clear a house (with my fantastic and supportive brother who has worked even harder than me) and it’s a lot of work.  Fortunately my managers have been very supportive and I used up annual leave as half-days prior to her passing so I could work (very) remotely and visit her in the hospice in the afternoon.

Mum supported a startling number of charities by direct debit so we thought she would like us to keep that going.  So I have cleared out four double wardrobes, with the clothing going to the hospice’s charity shop, and both pretty and functional – things shared between them and various local charities. She lined her drawers and wardrobes with soaps and these and unused toiletries have gone to local food banks, as has some of her Brexit-later-Covid pile of tins and jars.

We have taken blankets and sheets to local dog charities for them to use as bedding.  So now the house and shed drastically less full – although looking at the living room floor at the moment you wouldn’t know it!  And my brother has almost earned a frequent flyer award at the local recycling centre for recycling and rubbish.

And apparently there are companies which do house clearances, which has lifted my spirits enormously in regards to removing the unwanted furniture and reducing the number of 1,200 mile round-trips required for either/both of us, especially as the second wave of Covid is growing to engulf England and return us to lockdown.

One lovely unexpected treasure trove in the wardrobe was a set of clothes which mum wore at university between 1957 and 1962, plus when she started work after that as a teacher, and her beloved caftan from the 1970s.  Finding them was amazing, so personal and touching.  The cute dresses I’ll keep but for others I’ll have to think about a suitable destination, maybe a vintage clothes shop.

And I’m just starting to think about the potentially valuable ‘Cash In The Attic’ things, although there are hardly any candidates, just a very few bits of crystal and perhaps some retro 70s toys, and a box of vintage postcards. My dad [he and mum separated a long time ago] has used auction houses to sell things and kindly suggested this to me. This gave me hope that the things I wouldn’t want to keep but wouldn’t want to trash can perhaps be sold and bought by collectors.  I doubted that there would be any in Penzance, at the far west of Cornwall, but there are actually four to check out, which I will hopefully have time to do around clearing the house and arranging the funeral which is set for next week.  If not then I can just do it back home in Scotland when I return after the funeral.


What treasures lie within…

So those are the earthly things.  What lies – literally – ahead of me now is a pile of four carrier bags each with a label on them with ‘My Life’ written on them.  Wow.

The documents inside had been kept in a suitcase in the loft with a fifth bag.  That one was easier to sort as it contained either letters she’d received from family and friends, so with a box for my letters and a box for my brother’s letters that wasn’t too hard.  And disconcertingly will therefore be a record of my life rather than hers.  There were too many letters to read them all yesterday but the couple I had a quick look at were chatty and written in a much younger more exuberant style, even down to the handwriting.

There were also cards from her parents, aunts and uncles; I think that I may just keep a few as the messages inside were very simple and similar.  I like seeing people’s signatures on census returns and marriage certificates and scan them in as a personal record of the individual.

I’ve been managing my grief well I think, mainly because I had four weeks with mum and my brother, who returned from overseas to support her, before she passed which was a privilege as it gave us time to accept, adapt and say our goodbyes.  This is especially valuable given that just days before that I wouldn’t have been allowed to travel because of lock-down.  There have been so many tens of thousands of bereft families in the UK alone whose loved ones were taken away suddenly to hospital and never come back, without even a visit allowed; that must have been horrific.

I plan to honour her memory by placing the story of her childhood in the fishing port of Newlyn in the local archive.  We’ll also have a longer – un-redacted! – version of her entire life to keep within the family.  But in the first instance I have those four carrier bags waiting for me.  It will be a challenge sorting them I think, and unlike yesterday I will keep a box of tissues handy.  But hopefully, like yesterday, the predominant feelings will be love and admiration.

Copyright Lynne Black
First published 12 August 2020

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