With my dear friend’s permission, I am sharing this experience with you. My friend’s mother (who for the sake of this article I will refer to as “Mom”) was living out of state in a comfortable home, well furnished, with lots of clothing, mementos, papers and tchotchkes. She was a fiercely independent woman who divorced her first husband and found her soul mate a few years later.
By the time we met, Mom had been widowed for several years, had sold her home and was happily living in a beautiful assisted living community in Essex County, New Jersey. I was hired by her daughter, my friend, to deal with the boxes and excess clothing that did not make the cut during the sale of her home. For our first session, I showed up with my satchel filled with garbage bags, paper clips, scissors, tool belt, knee pads and a big smile on my face. Mom opened the door, and I read resentment in her face.
I knew immediately that I needed to release my internal gas pedal from 65 MPH to a more comfortable 25 MPH. I saw cartons piled up in her bedroom still sealed with packing tape, but I knew that was a bad place to start. We began with sorting through her mail. I did not see a smile on her face for the first couple of months of our weekly sessions. After a while she began to acknowledge my patience and kindness while on hold with her insurance carriers and assorted doctors to discuss invoices and billing issues.
No matter how intense our organizing sessions were, her face always lit up when her daughter called to say hello and check in. I was touched by the love in Mom’s voice and the sharing of their daily activities. During those calls I would take a bathroom break where Mom had a beautiful bamboo plant on display next to her sink. I often wondered how it survived without sunlight.
One night I was at her apartment especially late. She was open to the organizing process and did not mind that the clock was closing in on 10 p.m. I felt the turning point occur in our relationship when I left the apartment that night, she said, “Thank you, Eileen. I love you.” I responded, “I love you too!” We gave each other a big hug, and I practically walked on air to the elevator and out to my car. I felt we had turned the corner from resentment to respect. I was delighted.
I worked with Mom for about a year, with several interruptions in service due to her hospitalizations and rehabs. When Mom passed away, my work continued with her daughter to assist in the shutdown of her apartment. At the shiva, I stayed in Mom’s room while out-of-town family sorted through items that they wanted. Everyone treated her apartment with respect and love. I was honored to meet such wonderful people under sad circumstances. I had heard so many stories about them. What stands out most in my memories of Mom, is that she never had a bad thing to say about anyone, and she deeply loved her daughter, son-in-law and grandkids.
When all the final sorting, donations, tossing and packing were done, and the apartment key was handed over to management, my friend gave me a lovely gift, the bamboo tree from Mom’s bathroom. I took it home on a cold night wrapped in my scarf so it would not go into shock. I placed it on my kitchen window ledge where it had access to the view of my deck, backyard and lots of sunshine. A year later, the plant continues to grow and flourish just like my relationship with Mom had over the year that I worked with her.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with Mom and to be a part of my friend’s support team. Every morning the bamboo plant greets me when I enter my kitchen. It serves as a reminder that relationships can improve over time, with patience, sunshine and care.
From resentment to respect, rest in peace, Mom.
Eileen Bergman is a professional organizer and a proud member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO). Eileen is listed in the resource directory for the Hoarding Disorder Resource and Training Group. Eileen may be reached at 973-303-3236 or [email protected].