My Story, Chapter 11

If you’ve read any of my other posts, “MY STORY” you know a bit about my personal and professional life.

You know a little about my challenges and my losses, and also about those people in my life.

The last post, “My Story, Chapter 10” is from one of the toughest years in my life, actually just the first 6 months. You can read that post here.

In short, in early 2009, I lost my job, had great trouble finding a job and remained unemployed. I tried some independent ventures and struggled. My one investment property had great issues which led to losses. On top of that, my mother’s wonderful grandmother, like a surrogate grandmother for me, died, then my father and mother died – within about 5 weeks of each other.

In the summer of 2009, my wife’s uncle, in his early 50’s, passed away from a brain cancer related item. In September of that year my wife’s other grandmother passed away. I was still unemployed.

As you may have read in the last post, my father passed in March, my mother on the first of May. After the initial cloud lifted, my sisters and I were left to settle their estate. My parents weren’t rich but they did save a lot and coming from the Depression, lived well below their means.

Also coming out of the Depression, my parents save lots of ‘things’. July came and we started to work on the estate. I was unemployed and in between interviewing for jobs and trying to get my own business rolling but took time to go to my parents’s house and start the process.

Let me make something clear, I don’t think that my parents threw away or gave away any clothing that they bought for 20-30 years. You may sit there and think, “OK sure, Jim’s exaggerating a little to make a point.” They had all sorts of clothes. Now the clothing was not expensive stuff. I bet that much of the clothing was from JC Penney, Sears, Kmart, Target, and the like. I am almost certain that no known ‘brand names’ were found in either wardrobe. I enjoyed going through all of my dad’s ties from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. I really enjoyed his white belt and shoes collections.

My mother had so many clothes with the tags still on them, probably unused. The tags told a story about how she shopped. Clothing marked down a few times and even ‘red tagged’ to clearance were there. Over the years my mother started thin, gained weight due to medication such as steroids and such, then lost weight during her various surgeries in her life – probably 16-20 surgeries – until she died very skinny, having been ravaged by cancer.

My father saved almost all of the significant mailings I sent him – anything related to a promotion, new project, progress, something about my daughters or anything important in our lives. I wasn’t necessarily ready for that. As I dug through his messy desk that was literally stuffed with papers, I found all of these things I forgot I sent him. I was a touching walk down memory lane. I was able to relive ideas and thoughts that I had when I was writing and sending the notes to him. It was emotional and a little tough at times but I was so glad to see this.

My mother saved a few of the cards and notes I sent her, and a random collection of photographs from vacations, school moments, birthdays and holidays with her handwritten notes on the back.

My mother was the type that if she liked a teapot, toaster, portable grill or other small appliance, two was better than one. So we came upon multiples of lots of things. It was nice for us in some cases because two of us could keep the same memories.

I spent days and weeks in my parents’s basement – it was my father’s workshop. He was a cabinetmaker for years and for years after he sold to cabinet makers. He still had so many saws, tools, and supplies stuffed into a small basement. He often had projects going for friends and for the church, so it was a well-used shop. As I had the overwhelming job of going through those tools, I would have flash backs as I found tools used in my youth – some small hammer I used to make my first birdhouse with my dad, a saw I used when I cut my hand badly trying to make tough depressors for re-sale, and lots of other tools with good memories. To this day the smell of wood dust and varnish take me back to the days in my dad’s shop or when we visited cabinet shop clients when we worked together in his business.

I wrote about the painful, draining, rewarding, roller coaster of a ride of going through my parents’s barn – sorting through memories and junk – in a post I named Cabinet Doors and Piles of Paper – you can read here

While many of the things were emotional and overwhelming, generally speaking, it was a nice process to go through all of their items. It was draining when it came time to decide what to keep, sell, and give away. I recall spending weeks cleaning, organizing and separating things around the house. It came time to start to separate a pile for the auction, a pile to keep, and a pile for charity. I remember starting to go through the home again looking for other things to do and for more work. I was really just trying to avoid the process.

I think part of me also knew that this was it. As bad as we wanted to clean the house and move on, I knew that once this process was done, IT really was over – the era of my parents was going to be really over. I recall being at my own home on a Saturday morning and having told my family that I was taking the day to go to my parents’s house to sort and organize, then finding myself dreading the drive there, dreading the process and dreading even more the end of it.

As long as I was sorting, separating, remembering they seemed like they were there – or about to come home. For the last 15 years or so my parents would spend a few months in Florida during the winter months. It became very easy, after they died, to feel or pretend like they were just away in Florida for a few months again. For quite a while I think I avoided mourning completely because of this. It was easy initially but I think it made the overall process harder.

I recall many hot days in the summer being tired and having gone through a whole cabinet or closet and feeling tired and emotional. Then I would go into another room and open a closet and seeing the vast amount of things to go through combined with the memories, the smells, the loss, the emotions, and the sheer volume of ‘stuff’, I would just break down and cry like a child. Sometimes I would just go sit in their backyard and not move for long periods of time. I don’t think I ever felt so lonely during those days in my parents’s home – yet it was something that I really wanted to do alone. 

So the day came that we decided on a date to put things up for auction. We had a deadline. We had to separate and make decisions. We got to be efficient and we worked together well. We organized so much ‘stuff’. They had so much to go through. We actually ended up filling 4 of the largest dumpsters. My father was a pack rate.

Towards the end I recall getting overwhelmed and burnt out and I began to just purge things…..I ended up selling some tools, an old hunting rifle, and other things that I now wished I would have kept – but at that moment the emotions and responsibilities and nature of it all combined so that I just wanted to get rid of the emotional baggage. I’m told this was actually the healthier choice because many times people attach emotional meaning to all sorts of things and then just save those things. It can be hoarding or it can be just holding on to something and anywhere in between.

I definitely didn’t hoard and that’s probably a good thing but I do regret letting go of a few things, strictly because of sentimental reasons. But then again, those things are now gone and have been since 2009 and I suppose my life is no worse because of it. Perhaps my life has less emotional baggage because of it.

In any case, through out that year I can’t tell you how much I worked at doing well at things…..running my own company, trying to get a job, improving my financial situation, and trying to be a success at something – and none of it worked. I really could not succeed at anything. It seemed everything, except my wife and daughters and friends, went wrong. My car, my bills, my job, my health…..When we sold my parents’s home and resolved the estate, I finally felt some sort of resolution and some accomplishment.

The inheritance was not huge but for all of us, my sisters and I, 2009 was a tough year, so the extra funds helped out. For me, I can say that without the inheritance I would have struggled in a major way and I probably would have had to relocate or at least work out of town during the week only to return home on the weekends. I lost a lot of pride and self worth that year and it took years to regain it.

In 2009 I learned lots of lessons – I learned that in the years 2007 to 2009 I really was a negative guy and that I focused on what went wrong and mostly on what I did not have. I complained a lot about things I would be so grateful for now. Even though I earned some nice income in 2007 and 2008, I was not a happy guy. I lived beyond my means and we were in debt. I made enough money that we could live nicely but we weren’t saving for the future and made poor money decisions.

After losing my job and experiencing the Recession in 2009, we were forced to focus on paying down debts and we had severe financial stress…….- for years. I felt like I might break down many times, but when things got very bad, when I was very low, I looked at my wife and daughters and I knew that I had to just keep moving. Some days I just barely showed up for life, and sometimes that was enough.

The other things that I learned – or at least re-learned were these items that I reflect on daily still:

  1. Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have
  2. Focus on what works, not what doesn’t work
  3. Monitor, improve your self-talk – often we are the toughest on ourselves without knowing it – we ask ourselves so many negative questions like “Why can’t I make any money?” and our brain, like a computer, searches for answers. We must change those questions around and ask positive questions like “Why do I earn more money now?” or “Why am I so lucky?”, etc. instead.
  4. Keep moving, show up, smile.
  5. Help others. There is always someone worse off than you and if you help anyone, it helps you and life seems much better.
  6. Get active – go take action, any action, don’t sit around and wait and wallow. Go out and do it!

I wish you the best until next time…..

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