For weeks now, Jeff has had piles of paperwork and folders set aside in an area of our bedroom, waiting for me to sort through them and determine what can be recycled. This morning, after sleeping in, I woke to a few inches of snow, which immediately pushed away any ambition I might have had for getting dressed today. As I finished breakfast, Jeff suggested that perhaps I could sort through some of that paperwork today. I considered a bit, and said, “Maybe.”
So that’s what I did, for maybe two hours or so, and weeded out a lot of paper to be recycled, and another pile to be shredded first and then recycled. And the thing is, it’s not easy for me. One of the folders held all kinds of forms, mail, and notes about my mom. I took out all the old account statements from the nursing home so they could be shredded, and some other papers here and there, but I couldn’t go through everything. Certain categories of things, I just jumped right past, thinking, “I’ll look at those later on, I don’t want to deal with them today.” (Of course, that’s the story of my life: always tomorrow, not today.)
For someone as much in love with paper as I am, and in love with all the words upon the leaves, sorting through what looks like junk to most other people brings memories to the surface of my mind, and then the emotions that follow close behind. Each sheet is like a breath, a moment I lived through, a note I wrote about my mom’s failing health as a nurse or social worker told me what I needed to know, and what I must do next.
One thought I had very soon after my mom passed away was, “I guess I’m not her Health Care Proxy anymore.” I’d signed the paper, agreed to make the decisions regarding her care and treatment whenever she was unable to make them on her own. A lot of the paper that collects in the grooves of our lives is truly not important — “waste paper,” to be recycled, or trashed, or used for packing material or art projects. But the Health Care Proxy form is something else completely: it’s a promise that, in the same way a parent takes care of and protects a baby or child, holding its fate as well as its small body in strong, grown-up hands, the adult child will hold the fading parent close, return the love they received in the beginning to the parent who gave it, to make that last fall as soft and peaceful as they can.
Whole worlds can exist in small groups of words, making a single sheet of paper so full of life, it might jump and fly away on its own.