Sunday, January 31, 2010

Of Value

I've been in the valley for two weeks. I came down early (to beat the series of massive snow storms) for an appointment that I thought was Wed, Jan 20th. Turned out it was actually for the following Wed. the 27th, according to the other party. It was a project required by probate court as part of settling Mom's estate. Without specific bequests in Mom's will regarding the majority of her tangible property, an equal division between my brothers and myself requires (per the court, not us) an "appraisal" of her belongings. All her belongings. We had to hire an estate appraiser to come and determine the value of all of Mom's things.

When I first learned of this court requirement, I perceived that it would be a difficult day to endure emotionally. But then I forgot all about this fact. As Mom's stuff is in a storage unit, rather than a home, it was going to be a more difficult and lengthy task. I came down to oversee the appraisal and assist in the storage unit with my brother. We did some jewelry the week before but the main storage unit day was last Wednesday. I was very thankful that my husband had come down in time for it. He came down for an appointment of his own on Saturday, but he, too, came down early trying to beat another storm that might make it even more difficult than it already was to get out of our property.

Like I said, many months ago I perceived it might be an emotional day but then completely forgot about it until the day before. Then in the rush of the morning I headed into Appraisal Day fairly naive and unprepared. It took about an hour and a half for it to settle in on me. The hard part was seeing other people handle Mom's things in such an indifferent way. Because for me Mom's life is represented in her things, it felt like they were handling "her life" with a casualness and indifference that amounted, for me, to disrespect.

It was hard.
It was sad.
It was heavy.

I think I actually felt offended. Offended that the things containing such meaning and importance, such symbolism and representation of an extremely valued life, were treated with such disregard by these people. I know that things are just things, and that Mom's life was so much more than her things. But still, these things... well, you know what I mean.

On top of that, their job is to assign a monetary value to all the items. Items they have never seen before and don't care about. Items belonging to a woman they never knew. Items that have no meaning, memories or sentiment for them. But are tremendously full of all these for me.

In general, I liked these people. They were nice enough, ordinary people. But, they did tend to be a little on the insensitive side. To them, I'm sure, this is just a job. They do it every day. They've done it for years. And let's face it, people do accumulate a lot of stuff. But to hear them quickly assign values to boxes of items, to furniture, lamps, and such...well it just hit me kind of coarsely. And of course, everyone has stuff that isn't of worth to anyone else. Because we had to pack up Mom's house rather quickly, almost everything was packed up. It was hard - like salt in a wound - to hear them look into a box and declare the contents of no sale value by simply stating, "Garbage." Ouch. It hurt every time they said it.

One of the worst was when they declared the monetary value of one of Mom's beautifully hand knitted afghans to be a mere $8. I choked on the thought. But then it was also the moment when I made my greatest leap in detaching myself from them. Though still affected by it all, I began to see the whole situation for what it was: two people coming at the same things from completely different realities. My reality is that these things ARE of tremendous value because Mom was of tremendous value to me. I saw them as "underprivileged" in having not known Mom or known the value of her life and the memories attached to her things. I seemed to see and understand this chasm of two realities, but it didn't take away the sadness and heaviness I was experiencing as the appraisal went on.

It was hard and it was an emotional day. I grew quiet and sullen as the day went on and as the matter-of-factness of their work and occasional insensitive comments continued. I'm so thankful my husband was here. He was tired and had worked so hard the day before to just to get out of our property. He was pretty exhausted by the time he drove the four hours to get here. Then the very next morning was the appraisal and he worked for several hours in the storage room helping get boxes down, move furniture out of the way and put it all back as the appraisal progressed. My brother was there, too, arriving just at the time when I was beginning my quiet meltdown and heading out to sit in the van to eat some lunch and have a break. They finished up and I mostly steered clear.

After the storage room, we had to go to my brother's house to appraise some things stored there. After that, I followed the appraisers to another site for them to finish Mom's jewelry. I didn't get done with them until 6:30 p.m. By the time I got back "home" to my brother's house I was exhausted and needed a good cry. I let the room grow dark on me as I laid in bed and cried out the feelings. Then, we all had a quiet evening around the TV.

It feels good to have the appraisal out of the way. It still feels weird to have Mom's stuff in a storage unit. That in itself seems sort of disrespectful and devaluing, though I also fully comprehend the reality and truth to the contrary. It's just an ordinary fact. A necessity.

It also feels uncomfortable to think of someday having to sell some of her things. What we don't need, want, or can't fit into our lives will have to be sold or given away someday. It's just very strange and emotionally hard for me to detach all the memories from her things. It's hard to think of her beautiful family room couch in some second hand store and then eventually in someone else's home. I don't mind the thought of her beautiful things being in someone else's home nearly as much as I have difficulty with the thought of them being in some secondhand furniture store. Imagining them giving warm, beautiful usefulness to some young couple just starting out feels nice. But imagining her couch...the couch filled with so many memories from so many years...crammed into some concrete floored warehouse with 50 other couches...just feels dishonoring somehow.

Maybe I need your prayers to just "get over" these facts of life. But, honestly, I think it's all just part of the grieving process. Everyone's process is different. This is just part of mine.


  1. So sorry that you had to endure that Judi. So thankful that Rusty could be with you. I can't imagine. Well, I sort of can... I did an estate sale for Randy's Aunt in Youngtown many years ago. I drove out there for 6 weeks just sorting in preparation for two yard sales before we could clear it out enough for people to enter the home for the estate sale. She was a hoarder... a recluse. So emotional watching others handle her things... such sadness. Her daughters had no desire to come get her things... so sad.
    Thanks for sharing Judi. Praying your return home is safe.

  2. Judi, me again. I forgot to tell you that the only thing I brought back after my Dad died was an old pair of barn work boots that my Dad had worn for years. I can't wait to put them in my garden... maybe hang them somewhere... or fill them with succulents.
    I was reminded of your post on your hiking boots and wanted to be sure and preserve a pair of my Dad's boots.
    Thanks Judi.