When it’s time to let go

Photo courtesy of Terry Gydesen. Used by permission.

One of these days, I’ll start a new NewsCut category called “I wish I’d written that,” as a repository of lovingly told stories of our lives.

The Star Tribune’s Jon Tevlin today has such a story, endearing especially to those of us with parents in their final days while we already begin to make accommodations in recognition of our own aging.

If you had to line up all the possessions of your life, put price tags on them, and then watch people come pick through them, could you?

Darlene and Lou Gydesen met 70 years ago. She’s had a stroke; he’s losing his memory. They’ve sold the home in Inver Grove Heights and now watch the traffic go by in Edina, Tevlin writes.

Lou’s memory loss baffles and angers him, (daughter) Terry said. When they went to Target, he asked when they put the big red circle on the building.

“He’s kind of like a little kid,” she said. “Everything is new to him.”

Lou owned restaurants and a chain of Orange Julius shops, and before that he had been a traveling salesman. When he was on the road he wrote Darlene letters on the hotel stationery in each town. She kept those.

Asked about the toughest part of moving into assisted living, Darlene said: “I didn’t know I had so many things, and it’s sad parting with them. They were just little things, but they meant a lot to me.”

The old house was on a golf course, the new place is on a busy street in Edina.

“We used to sit on the deck and watch the golfers,” Darlene said. “Now, we watch the traffic. Lots of traffic.”

The hardest part, though, has been watching Lou’s memory slip away.

“It’s when Lou doesn’t answer things right. I feel bad. I hope people here understand,” Darlene said. “The people here seem very nice though.”

The column is based on the work of their daughter, Terry, a freelance photographer who has been documenting her family’s transition on her blog.

A week or so ago, she helped with the estate sale at the old house.

Things hadn’t been priced yet on Sunday. Good thing as she would have been freaked out by the price on many items. She looked at the high heel black shoes with the rhinestones. She said it was the first really good pair of shoes that she bought around the time she met my Dad. Even though they long ago didn’t fit her anymore, she’s kept them. It’s clear where the sentimental sap side of me comes from.

When I went back to the house last night to see the final set up and saw the price of 12.75 on her shoes, I decided I needed to keep those for her. I also did a bit more shopping, as I have been doing all along as they’ve set up, picking out things that I’ve decided to keep or that I thought were extra important to my Mom. These shoes clearly were significant to her. I also kept a silk oriental style dress made beautifully in Hong Kong in the early 60s. Not my style, but impeccable in how it was made. I remember that she always said how my Dad brought it back for her from one of his trips to Chicago when he was a wholesale furniture salesman. She was very proud of that dress. As I discussed it with a friend, she said of course keep the dress, you have the shoes! Not that either would fit me, nor could I walk in heels. But that was not an important consideration in this decision.

“A lifetime of collecting memories through things acquired,” she wrote. “We all do it.”

A day later, it was over.

As I rummaged through the unsold items I found several treasures that I am SO glad didn’t sell. A package of 15 original water color cards that my Mom did. I hope there were not others that I missed. A Christmas spoon that she painted and a box of Christmas ornaments she painted that she had been asking about and I thought had gotten packed. It horrifies me about what other stuff, especially the cards, that I might have missed. Oh well. Letting go. I have this set and we have the ornaments. Whew.

You won’t read finer writing anywhere else today.