This morning at work there was a bit of commotion. One of my colleagues was recently diagnosed with stage four cancer. Stage four cancer isn’t something people come back from. Especially if it’s in the liver. Someone had decided that it was time to pack up her desk and that caused a small commotion.
The desks at work aren’t anything special. They’re standard office desks with a half-arsed partition resulting in a hybrid of cubicles and an open plan layout. People do what they can to decorate the sterile environment. Most bring in trinkets, photos, special pens or whatever to add life to their little space. I’m in the minority. My desk has a pen and a few notepads. But that’s beside the point. Watching someone's belongings be sorted and packed brought up memories.
When I was in my early twenties I attended my paternal grandma’s funeral. It was strange saying good bye to a woman that I had only spoken to a few times in my life. She had Parkinson’s and spent her final years in hospital. After the funeral we were taken over to her house. There were rooms and rooms of porcelain collectables along with other things older generations collect. I was told to pick out a few things. It felt weird. I didn’t know the woman who had collected these things. Why would I want to take her stuff home with me?
It was completely different when I had to sort through my mother’s things. It still amazes me the amount of stuff that came out of her craft room. The materials, unfinished projects, scrap booking stuff, it was amazing. What was once useful and had purpose was now confusing and symbolic. Some of her craft gadgets are still shrouded in mystery despite family conferences and asking google. Regardless, the mysterious items were sorted between my siblings to be packed away. The boxes I brought home with me remain untouched in my hallway. It feels weird that it’s in my house. In my mind it’s still my mum’s stuff. A constant reminder that she is no longer here.
Terminal illness and death have the power to add significance to the ordinary. The desk that was ignored by most people is now empty. A reminder of a colleague’s battle. The sewing machine in my hallway isn’t just an expensive piece of machinery. It’s the tool my mother used to sew quilts, clothing and countless other projects. Using her talents, she turned her love into something tangible. Into things that have outlasted her. All these things I would trade to have her back again.