Many middle-aged women were raised to be tough and to stifle tears, but after a few decades of being Women of Steel sometimes we need to let go and bawl like helpless babies. Besides, a recent study from the University of Minnesota found that crying improves the mood, and weeping can also help with healing, boosting immunity, and reducing levels of anger and stress. So wail away, and then blow your nose, pull up your big girl pants, and go back to slaying dragons.
I hit the wall this week after five days of intense mental and physical activity that included traveling across the country to attend a family funeral and then moving my mother 100 miles to another assisted living facility in her home town. I maintained a steady focus until I returned to clean out my mother’s room at her former place. That’s when I lost it and became a sobbing sack of sorry sap. If the University of Minnesota study is correct, I have earned several years of guaranteed healing and immunity.
Blame in on the furniture. I have helped move my mother 10 times in the last four years from various assisted living facilities, rehabilitation locations, two different homes, and to her current location. Through heat, snow, and a broken foot, I have toted, hauled, and heaved countless boxes, some that were never opened. The first move involved a large moving van full of sturdy furniture and prized possessions she had collected for 86 years. This last trek was accomplished with only my SUV.
Mom is confined to a wheelchair and a medical bed, so she has no need for furniture. I gave away her possessions including a fashionable dining set, flowered couches, a rocking chair, a cherry bedroom set that came from a mansion in Butte, Montana, and a mahogany china hutch from a dude ranch in Gooding County. But I had to stop at the hope chest, and that’s what started the water works.
My mother received the cedar chest as a present from her parents when she graduated from Wendell High School in 1945. Back then, young women prepared for their future home long before they were married. They sewed pillowcases, knitted afghans, and collected linens to store in the trunk. My mom, the timid Valedictorian, was engaged to my father, the popular student body president. Her cedar-lined hope chest symbolized an escape from her life of farm work.
I opened the chest and sorted the contents that had given her such hope over the years: her wedding dress in a clouded dress bag, unused satin pillowcases turned yellow with age, a pink blanket still waiting to swaddle two baby girls who never breathed, old newspapers, a folder of Paul Harvey columns, letters from my father when he served overseas in the military, a gold locket, faded photographs of nameless people, a portrait of my father – so handsome at 18 before a myriad of illnesses and a lifetime of stress ravaged his body.
When the chest was empty, I started to sob as I thought of the fresh young woman who eagerly looked forward to the future but today only hopes to see the sun rise in the morning. Mom is content now and her room’s window overlooks the main street of town where she grew up and raised her family. Old friends come to visit, and they laugh and retell old stories. She’s forgotten about her possessions that now fill the homes of grateful strangers. It’s obvious that friends are better than furniture, but I’ll keep the hope chest.
Today’s blog was fueled by a glass of 2010 Cinder Cabernet Blend from Snake River Valley. It’s available at Fork Restaurant in downtown Boise for $9.50 a glass. If you like Chardonnay, (but why would you?) Fork has a Grgich Hills from Napa Valley, one of my favorite wineries.