Imagine my intrigue at learning of Swedish Death Cleaning. I mean, don’t you want to Google it now? I did, and I found out my own mother did a sort of Norwegian Death Cleaning of her own. Much to the delight of her children who did not have to sift through thousands of square footage of hoarded memories, our mother gifted us all the possessions she thought held value as she aged. She did us all a favor and took care of her own affairs, so we didn’t have to deal with both grieving and sorting through her life. What a beautiful gift.
I was thinking the other day of tasks I’d like checked off my lists if I were to pass suddenly, and I remembered the things I did wish my mother had left behind. I wish I had her writing, in her own hand: letters, poems, prayers, whatever she had on her mind, but Mom wasn’t much of a writer, at least not that she left behind.
I’m often in contact with people who have been diagnosed with potentially terminal illnesses, and I suggest to young mothers in this situation that they write letters to their children: letters for graduation days, weddings, birth of a child, all those beautiful days she may not be there to share in flesh and blood, but she can speak into that moment from beyond this life for her children. Most of us never consider that we’re all terminally ill. No one can boast of tomorrow.
Writing: that’s the thing we leave behind that can last through generations. If I love well, my children and my grandchildren will remember and honor me, but eventually their memory of me fails. Writing becomes a permanent record to those who care enough to preserve it. The great poet Emily Dickinson had no children to leave her words to and even made her sister promise to burn all her silly poems should she pass. That sweet caregiver did start the task but could not finish. She couldn’t rob the world of Dickinson’s powerful poetry, and today, barely a child can get through school without exposure to her work.
We can’t all be lasting poets anthologized for posterity, but we can prepare for the day we won’t be here. We can leave behind the prayers we laid before the Father on behalf of our children, poems that welled up from love of family, memoirs of life lessons hard learned in the school of hard knocks. We can give our children and grandchildren a window into our souls and influence them from beyond for far longer than that set of dishes we leave behind.
…and that’s the view from My Front Porch.