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James R. Stout

The File Cabinet and Letting Go

            I’ve been putting it off for nearly two years. What, you ask? Going through my mother’s file cabinet. I have quite literally two garbage bags full of files that will be burned. I always knew my mother was very meticulous about their records, but I had no idea to what extent until this recent undertaking. There were certainly files that bear keeping. These are basically genealogical, birth certificates, a notebook filled with newspaper articles that are historical in nature, and relevant files to personal finances that I may need at some point in the future. But these items only account for about ¼ of the files that she had maintained.

            Do you save every receipt for anything that you purchase? If you do save receipts do you keep them forever? I found scores of receipts for appliances that were bought 20 years ago and wore out before she passed away. I found large thick files of operating manuals for said appliances. Would you believe that she had kept their IRS returns going back to 1979? There was a thick file of receipts for every bill that they paid for the decade preceding her death. These included power bills for a power company no longer in business!

            But I also found some priceless items that I will never throw away. Coloring book pages that I colored when I was 5 or 6-years-old and gave to my mother as a “gift” at the time and that she apparently liked enough to keep. There are immunization records for me and my sisters going back to 1949 when my oldest sister was a month old. There is a file with poems that I wrote and apparently showed to my mother who then made typed copies. There’s even one that she painstakingly made a copy of using her then newfound talent of calligraphy. There are pictorial church directories from churches that we were members of going back more than 50 years. Although technically not something required to save, but certainly of importance to my family are the military records of my father from WW2. These are now over 75-years-old. I always knew that he was discharged from the Marines in 1945, but now I know the exact dates of his entry into the service (April 9, 1944) and his honorable discharge on March 17, 1945. I am now the keeper of such documents as his “mustering out” documents and receipt for his mustering out pay. Oh, and in case you’re wondering why he was only in the Marines for 11 months and mustered out before the war was over, he was injured while serving on Saipan.

            As I was going through all of these files I couldn’t just glance at a file title and if it appeared to be something not needed simply throw it away. Oh, no. My mother was known to hide cash. So, I have had to go through every file and look through each envelope to make sure that she didn’t hide money at some point in the past. She had disclosed to me about two months prior to her passing where she had money hid and asked me to get it and put it in her bank account for her. I did this, but I figured it was possible that she might have forgotten about one of her “hidey holes”. Sadly, I am no richer now!

            Going through that file cabinet and the contents have had a melancholy effect on me. I have smiled, burst out laughing at some discoveries, been brought to tears, and have been reminded of how very special my parents were. Those files most certainly contained a lot of mundane and essentially useless information. But more importantly, they contained tangible proof and evidence of the lives of those two wonderful people that I am honored to forever call “Mom and Dad”. The past nearly four years have been what can only be described as a metamorphosis in our family. As the executor of my mother’s will, this change in my life was felt even stronger. In the 43 months since my Uncle Tommy unexpectantly died, our family has been deeply affected. We lost Uncle Tommy (Mom’s younger brother) in May of 2016, Dad in June 2016, Aunt Velma (Mom’s older sister) in October of 2016, my sister Barbara in January 2018, and Mom in March of 2018. Additionally, we lost three aunts on my father’s side of the family and a cousin. I was not as close to them primarily because of the distance between where we lived, but they were certainly special and meant a lot to me.

            Losing someone very close to you is not easy. Dealing with that loss is a process. I believe that when it is someone such as a beloved parent or sibling the loss is never something that you get completely over. But it does get easier with time. At some point we start to remember the good and any negative thing usually fades away. At least, that’s how it has been with me. Going through that file cabinet this week has been another major step in dealing with the loss of my parents and my sister. It has been a time of remembrance and a time of letting go. In the end, I am left with wonderful memories and moments of poignancy. We have to learn how to let go and to do so without feeling like we are abandoning our lost love ones. It is essential to the healing process. I started this by talking about some of the lighthearted parts of going through that file cabinet. Two years ago, I might have felt different about it, but with time I realize that if my mother had been sitting there watching as I went through those files, she would have laughed at some things too. Although often subdued, she had a wonderful sense of humor. She also understood me very well. I’m reminded of the many times that I would do something funny or unique and she would smile and say, “That’s Randy!” As I finished going through that file cabinet, I looked at the huge pile of files to be discarded and thought to myself that the whole process of going through that cabinet was in a way an analogy for life. We collect things as the years go by, but most of them are not of any real importance. The things that are important remain with our loved ones and in their hearts. Perhaps I’ve learned an important lesson by taking another step in letting my parents go. I’ve learned that maybe, just maybe, our lives will be more fulfilled if we leave our loved ones with good memories and a strong sense of being loved rather than the collection of “things”.

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