I helped yesterday as a friend here in Madison was faced with the task of cleaning out his mother's room after she passed away over the weekend. The job was a simple one--clear away all of her things from the room, load it in our vehicles, and deposit it in his garage. Simple. But clearing away the last remnants of a person's effects, even after they have dwindled to what fits in a closet and a few drawers, is never easy.
She was already disappearing from the home when we got there. The letters of her name had already been taken off the directory. Her name had been wiped from the board outside her door. A few items did have address labels with her name on them, preparation for this moment when the person is not their to claim their possessions. They have none any more, not even the physical form they once inhabited. They're gone. I imagine the room there now, 9 West, cleaned and ready for the next traveler.
His mother had been fading for a while, and there were few signs of what might have been important to her at one time. No vacation photos, no shots of children or grandchildren. No portraits of her and her husband when they were younger. No signs of hobbies or treasured keepsakes. She had been reduced to the simplest of lives until I suppose it was easy to leave it.
My own mother spent the afternoon preparing for a trip of her own, a physical one that meant she had belongings to attend to, objects to gather up for the journey or prepare to leave behind. She too is reducing, eliminating objects to allow herself to move quickly and lightly. Having just turned 80, she is not ready to give up this life, and she enjoys the messy ends of it still. So do I.