I tackled and conquered another box last night/this morning. Two down, six or seven to go. The method that seems to work best is to drag the letter size file box into the living room, along with two archival “shoeboxes” and a photo labeling pencil. After turning on a movie I’ve seen before, I start sorting through the photo packets, splitting up the duplicates between the two shoeboxes. I don’t know about your mother, but my mother always ordered duplicate prints… so they could sit in a box with their twins for the next thirty years, rather than be shared with the people who would enjoy them. I guess that sounds a little snarky, but the hoarding of memories is probably the thing I struggle with the most out of all the things that one works through after a loved one dies.
It’s a fine balance — the movie and the photos. If I don’t have the movie running, my sorting speed slows down as I look at each photo, reminiscing — but since it’s a movie I’ve seen before, I don’t get distracted from sorting, either. I take each packet and look to see if there’s any helpful information on the outside envelope — sometimes she made notes: “Christmas 1979 – Alvin, Baytown” or “1982 AHS Centennial Parade”. Other times, the only clue is the date the film was sent in for processing, which could be the week after it was taken, or more likely, several months later. So my Nancy Drew cap comes out and I sift through my own memories while looking at the photos to see if I can identify anything that will help me put them in their correct chronological spot in the shoeboxes. When I’m pretty sure I have the date right, I scrawl a two digit year on the back with the photo labeling pencil and move on. The time for enjoying the photos will have to wait until I’ve finished going through them and sorting them. At a box a night, I think I should be able to complete that part of the project in a week or two.
I’m grateful to be self-employed. I can’t imagine trying to tackle the disassembly of a home and the archiving of a life if I worked a regular 40-hour work week. The flexibility of being in control of my own schedule has helped immensely. Control is a power that can be used for good… or not so good. I wish my mom had relinquished some of her own control when it came to these photos. It would have made for sweet memories to be doing this with her, rather than alone. Somedays my mind races thinking about all the things I’m learning from losing my mother. Things like making the days count, since we have no idea how many of them we have each been allotted in this life. Loving people the way they need to be loved, rather than the way we think they should be loved. Assessing what is important to our loved ones and showing them they are loved by doing the hard things, the things that may not come naturally to us, but mean so much more just for the fact that they are hard.