A Paper Scraps Confession

As I discussed in my previous post, keeping vs. tossing an identifiable “mom-ism” is a common theme in my life since my mom’s death.

Things that fall into the “TOSS” pile:

1.     Compulsive record keeping

2.     Tax filing procrastination

3.     Defying the Internet (paying bills vis-à-vis snail mail, etc.)

4.     Late night feasting on Entenmann’s chocolate glazed donuts

Things that fall into the “KEEP” pile:

1.     Triple-checking that the front door is locked before leaving home

2.     Negotiating for discounts

3.     Thoroughly washing fruit before consumption

4.     A “waste not, want not” mentality of using every last drop of shampoo/hand soap/face wash/dish detergent/etc. – even if it means cutting off the end of a plastic container.

Despite the lists above, I white-lied about something. (Forgive me.) I haven’t completely tossed my mother’s compulsive record keeping tendency. Let me rewind a bit….

When I was cleaning out her apartment, I did in fact come upon receipts, records and notes older than my high school age cousins. These I tossed.

But here’s what I also found: Dialogue between my mom and me when I was very young that she transcribed, relating to my father’s death. These notes are scribbled on newspaper scraps, backs of envelopes, notebook pages, a magazine cover, anything she could find – almost as if she was worried that our words would disappear or she would forget our exchange if she didn’t immediately jot it down.

See the first example below:

And here’s another, the date (not pictured) says this exchange occurred a couple days later:

When I first came upon the faded manila folder, opened it and the confetti of newspaper scraps and other pieces of paper cascaded over the edges to the floor, I was dumbfounded. I was dumbfounded because my mom told me everything. She loved telling me stories about my toddler years. She pretty much chronicled every moment of my childhood with either a VHS camcorder or Canon A-1 camera, and on the rare occasion when there wasn’t a picture to show for it, Mom pressed replay on her stories over and over again. So I was dumbfounded that there were so many stories and moments documented on these scraps that I had never heard before.

Then, an acute feeling of sorrow took over, causing my knees to buckle. The pain of reading the notes pertaining to my mother’s mission to help me make sense of my father’s death was heart wrenching. I imagined how alone she was and how strong she was trying to be while she mourned for her husband, with only a toddler at home for company. And then, as if evil irony had come to wreck havoc on me, I had discovered this material shortly after her own death. I cried my eyes out.

Did I throw out the manila folder? Absolutely not. After I resurfaced from the trenches of astonishment and grief, I realized that these records offer me something that my mother can no longer give me: History. Oral tradition. Lessons from a mother to a mother-to-be one day. Stories from a grandmother my children will never know.

The contents of the manila folder are almost 30 years old, but these scraps I’m keeping. And perhaps, subconsciously, I’ve become somewhat of a compulsive record keeper myself. For one, I’m blogging about my life in the aftermath of my mother’s death, right?

And one day, I hope my children will read my posts. I’ve certainly made it pretty easy for them; they’ll only need a web address as opposed to navigating a confetti storm of paper scraps. (At least I tossed my mother’s “Defy the Internet” mom-ism.)

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11 responses to “A Paper Scraps Confession

  1. Hi Lauren- I have read all of your posts. Always very interesting and thoughtful. This one was I know particularly difficult. I know your mom was always proud of your ability to be independant and take care of yourself but I am glad that you are relying on your second family, boyfriend, friends and colleagues to give you support. Your friends in Baltimore are also very proud of you
    Dan

  2. This is an amazing post Lauren. You’re a beautiful writer with moxy to spare.
    -Sophi

  3. Truly amazing Lauren. Great post.
    David

  4. Lauren, you were lucky to have such a brave and strong mother. I am sorry for your loss, but it is clear that she made a difference and passed her courageousness and strength along to you.

  5. Again, amazing. You are such an incredible writer. Everytime I read your posts, a vivid picture of your mom comes into my head. Remember that Express faded black ribbed, not fitted, long-sleeved shirt she used to wear. That’s what I see her in :). With a smile of course. Fabulous woman!
    Marnie

  6. Lovely, real, raw, and powerful. Thanks so much for sharing.

  7. Lauren, I loved this post. Thank you for sharing something so personal. Tomorrow, I am attending the funeral of a girl I went to high school with who committed suicide this week after a severe struggle with post-partum psychosis and I’ve been so thoughtful about her children and how they will come to understand everything that has happened. While your circumstance is quite different, seeing your mother’s gentle and tender conversation as she recorded it, I felt some hope and peace that those children are also surrounded by others who will help them to make some sense of this terrible tragedy.

    • Thank you so much for sharing, and I’m terribly sorry to hear about your friend from high school. What an awful thing. As you mention, however, hopefully her children grow up amongst the love and support of family and friends. I hope to hear from you again, and thanks for chiming in with what resonates for you.

      All my best,
      Lauren

      @laurenthaler

  8. Lauren, a touching post, thank you for sharing. My mom was also a compulsive record keeper and it was difficult for me to toss anything that she felt obliged to keep. But as you said, what in the world would you do with it all? Her journaling is a different thing altogether. I’m glad you found these notes, such a priceless keepsake.
    Faun

  9. Pingback: The Full Excavation, Paper Scraps Continued | The Infinity Game

  10. Thanks, I’ve been looking for info about this topic for ages and yours is the best I have discovered so far.

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