Sunday, March 1, 2015

What's Harder? Losing the Dead or Losing the Living?

A hat, a couple of bloody t-shirts, and a plastic hospital pan.
Mum's life in a hospital pan. A plastic freaking hospital pan. 

This is it. All I have in my possession from my 36 years of life living on this earth with my mother. My creative, driven, beautiful, yet tortured soul of a mother died in January 2012 from complications related to a rare stomach cancer brought on by her years of alcohol overindulgence. 

It's been three years since Mum's death. It is strange indeed, but life has moved on, as it does. All of her things, her furniture, her clothes, her shoes, her knic knacs, her photos, her jewelry, her keepsakes, have all been moved into a storage unit at my step-father's job--I was told recently it's all being kept there without the owner's consent and could be found and dumped at any time. So, naturally, I'm panicked. 

When I was young, before my step-father and sister entered the picture, Mum was an artist. She painted, sketched, played music, and for years worked as a David Bowie impersonator (which I despised at the time, but now of course realize how badass she truly was). She painted an incredible abstract depiction of Elton John that hung above our orange '70s sofa for years, and as a little girl I'd stare up at it and counted the shapes and colors. She created ceramic pieces that she placed throughout the home. I cannot imagine my childhood without picturing these pieces--pots, psychedelic cats, busts--giving texture and color to life's background. Her music album collection consisted of Queen, David Bowie, The Beatles, The Kinks, Adam and the Ants, Alvin and the Chipmunks. She'd place these albums on the record player and we'd clean house or play games or dance about like the crazy neighborhood freaks we were, and those memories are held dear to my brother Tony and I. 

My step-father and sister never knew this woman. Only Tony and I were lucky enough to embrace her before she abandoned her for another persona. 

Somewhere in taped up boxes in my step-father's work warehouse lie Mum's Kink's albums, her sketches, her ceramic creations, her Bowie costumes, her complicated yet intriguing history. Somewhere in those boxes (that can be gone forever at any time) lie my brother's and my baby pictures, our special newborn outfits, the blankets she made especially for us, and small keepsakes from our respective fathers. 

Bill and Kelli never knew these memories, these blankets, these fathers, these moments, this life. And yet, they refuse to let them go--to us, at least.


I'm working on a video project for disadvantaged children, connecting them with grown, successful mentors of sorts via video interviews. Starting in August of last year I was attempting to gather any equipment I could, and being on a tight budget, remembered Mum had loads of video and camera equipment in storage that wasn't being used and had sat there gathering dust for the past three years. If Mum were alive, she'd want to help. So I called my sister to not only discuss borrowing Mum's equipment for a few months, but also to arrange a special birthday dinner for her in Los Angeles.

After discussing the dinner in high spirits, I brought up borrowing the video equipment. 

"I don't want to keep it, just would like to borrow it for a few months. I know Mum would want it to be used and especially for something positive."

"No! That stuff is all MINE now. I don't care. Not you, not Papa, not Tony, not me, NO one will touch any of those things. I'm locking them up in storage until I die!" she replied. 

"I'm not asking to keep . . ."

"I don't care. No." Click. 

That was the last time I spoke with my sister. And no, we didn't end up going to a special dinner for her birthday. 

Months went by and after discussing the situation with my brother Tony, we decided we should give Bill, our step-dad, a call. After all, legally, my Mum's possessions were his, as they were legally still married before she passed (even though she told me just after her surgery that they were about to divorce). At this point, all Tony and I were looking to have is our baby pictures, our baby clothes, and a few knic knacs that meant something to us that they would have no clue of the significance. It would kill us if they ended up in a landfill next to soiled diapers and yesterday's treasures being picked at and shat upon by seagulls. No, please, no. 

I wish she'd written a goddamned will. 

His bottom line was, "I'll have the stuff moved into a storage unit. When we do that, anything that has your name on it I'll put it outside and good luck getting it." 

Trouble is, it won't have my name on it. Nor Tony's. 

Before Bill gave me this incredibly generous offer, I had offered to help them move it. I offered to get dinner, pizza, and help sort through all of it. We could do it as a family. I told him I was in no personal rush to get it, but I wanted to be sure it didn't end up in the dumpster before Tony and I have a chance to go through it. 

"I don't ever want to see your brother again." He said. 

"Why not?" I asked. 

"Because I'm sick and tired of hearing about how bad I treated him."

I wondered where he was hearing these stories as Tony and I had forgiven him long ago for the abuse. Must be his conscience, I thought. 

So, family members die, and I have to wonder if the most pain comes from losing the dead or losing those who are still alive and well. At least when losing the dead, there is a reason: car accident, long-standing illness, suicide, or in Mum's case, cancer.


The hat I have sitting on the hospital pan represents a mum I didn't grow up knowing. It was her newer persona, the persona Bill and Kelli knew well and embraced, the persona loved and adored by her paranormal society colleagues, by her newer friends. I know my little sister would love to have this hat, and I'd gladly give it to her because I know how much it would mean to her. 

But she won't talk to me.  

No reason.