For days now, since our move from Kansas City to Arizona, it seems that everywhere I turn, an unopened box awaits me, just begging to be unpacked. The living room, bedrooms, and oh-so-many toys—too many; all must be transferred from a box to … somewhere! And then there’s the kitchen; the dreaded of all rooms to assemble! Yet somehow in only two days, with assistance from husband and three pairs of little people hands (sometimes more distracting than helpful), my new Arizona kitchen was successfully unpacked.
Mid-happy dance I noticed two unaccounted for and, sadly, unopened boxes in the corner. In green sharpie, two beat-up boxes were labeled in my father’s handwriting: “Noritake China, serving platter, bowl, coffee pot, creamer, sugar bowl, special tea cups, wine glasses,” in my father’s handwriting. The boxes looked beat-up—almost pliable; but despite the crumpled corners and faded writing, the tape that secured them appeared remarkably fixed, unfazed by time and multiple journeys. I stared at them with a mixture of trepidation and excitement, similar to what one might experience when receiving a box in the mail missing a return address—who sent this? Is there a bomb inside? Or maybe it’s just that cute outfit I ordered? A surprise from the husband? My mix of emotions was not however, produced by a package from an unidentified sender. The contents of these two misshapen boxes once belonged to my Mom, gone now for 17 years. I have been hauling them around like a gypsy for the past 13-plus years; unopened and intentionally forced-forgotten.
For all these years, I have not only carried these boxes with me from city to city and state to state in cars, moving trucks and so on…I’ve carted other unopened boxes in my subconscious or soul, or some other hidden place. Piece by piece, I have begun the cathartic process of unpacking mom-boxes one-by-one. It’s been a sluggish process to open up my emotional baggage surrounding the decade my mom endured Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease and eventually her death--even now 17 years later. I can trace the beginnings of my unpacking process almost ten years ago when I stopped drinking. Lord knows you can’t be very successful at unpacking much of anything when you are blitzed half the time and pissed off at the world the other half. It’s a given that you will screw up and put things in the wrong places, or shove them into corners, and though you may have taken things out of boxes—you realize you’ve created a big ol’ mess. Until I had a clear mind and could face my emotions head-on, my unpacking process was precarious and counterproductive at best.
The past year has been a significant turning point in unpacking my mom-boxes. Somewhere between being closer to turning the age she was when she was diagnosed with her terminal illness (35) and my undergoing a remarkable spiritual awakening of sorts, I have become ready to open boxes like crazy! Physically I have opened boxes and binders of her memoirs and read them for the first time in my adult life. Emotionally, I have allowed myself to feel the feelings from reading her writing; sadness, anger, fear, laughter, love and many more. Has it been easy to open these boxes? No! Can I unpack them all in two days like I did my new kitchen? Certainly not! Does fear seize me at times and convince me I can’t do it? Yes! But with a little nudge from God, usually in the voices of the people who love me, I just keep unpacking. I do it when I feel in my soul that the time is right.
Yesterday when I encountered the green sharpie “Noritake China” boxes, I knew the time was right. I released the stubborn, sticky tape of years past and akin to an explorer on the verge of a great discovery, I unwrapped the “silver serving platters, bowls, coffee pots, creamer, sugar bowls, special tea cups and wine glasses.”As a bittersweet little addition, my three-year-old daughter, Laura, named after a grandma she did not have the privilege of meeting, shared in holding the delicate treasures of my two mom-boxes. We “wowed” and “oooo’d” together, and when the adventure lost its appeal, as it always will for a three-year-old, I cried a little on my husband’s chest. The tears for me are sometimes a necessary byproduct of unwrapping sadness from unanswered questions; “Mom did you pick the China out?” “How do I polish this silver?” “What kind of dessert can I put in those wine glasses?” Along with the sadness of the questions was the notion that my Mom didn’t have a long enough opportunity to use her silver serving platters, bowls, coffee pots, creamers, sugar bowls, special tea cups and wine glasses—at least in my human opinion.
After I safely placed each item of my Mom’s into my hutch and my tears subsided, I was able to reap the rewards of unpacking another mom-box. One more part of me has been released. And with its release, the sadness of what could or should have been is no longer important. I know this to be true because not even an hour after the last Noritake tea cup and saucer was proudly set out for display, I was overcome by a feeling of peace.
With peace, gratitude followed shortly behind. After all, I may still have questions about how the Noritake China came to be in my Mom’s possession or the fundamentals of silver polishing, but although my Mom can’t answer them … there are those who will; and they will be happy to do it. In fact, for some, to answer these questions might be a means of unpacking a few boxes of their own. Call me an idealist, a dreamer, or sentimentalist—I’ll gladly respond to each. I believe in the power of sharing experience in the healing process. Come share with me! Cheers to an exciting, fun-filled road to unpacking!