Monday, July 11, 2011

Inherited waste

What's left of a life ...
To get ready for this post which might become the most personal in the history of "Sloping ...." I was checking my online dictionary for a translation of the German term "Altlasten" and along with some others "inherited waste" was showing up and that kind of hits the nail.

Like I mentioned earlier my sister and I already lost our parents. Our dad died twenty years ago. He had an astrozytom. For the ones of you who are no cancer specialists (lucky you) - that's a brain tumor. Only a few months after his death our mom was diagnosed with a multiple myeloma. The doctors prognosed that she would have only very few years left - most of them in bed and wheelchair (rubbish - she never needed one) because of breaking bones. A myeloma is a non-hodgkin-lymphoma and one sympton can be the instability of bones. When she got the test results - right after two horrible years in hospitals with my dad - she stood up from the chair in the doctor's office and told him, that he should leave her alone with the chemo crap and that she would go now to raise her children.

And that is what she did. She did it even after she survived an almost fatal meningitis less than a year later, which was caused - as the doctors said - by the myeloma related collapse of the immune system. We think it was the grief. 
Then for almost ten years nothing happened. Simply nothing. It is open to your personal way to see the world if this can be credited to her enormous will power or to a not so uncommon medical phenomenon called smouldering myeloma.

My sister and I finished school, went to university and I had even already graduated with an M.A. and started working. Our mom worked, made her motorcycle driver's licence and lived a very active life. But it was always there - hidden deep in our thoughts and worries. The sword of Damocles. And one day it came down. A bone in my mom's back broke and we all knew ... we were back to the cancer b

I won't go into details. Important to know is that there is cure for many kinds of non-hodgkin-lymphoma but there is none for myeloma yet. All the chemo  therapy - even the high dose with stem cell transplant - is just for gaining time and reduce symptoms. 
In our case the fight went on for about five years and was a god damn roller coaster - remission - relapse - remission - relapse ... experimental therapies and all kind of treatment for dealing with the side effects of the cancer therapies. She died September 25 2006.

When something like this happens you feel like the world must stop - at least for a little while, but it doesn't. That shameless sun keeps going up and down and life just goes on. And you have to do things. There is no time for sitting in a corner paralyzed although this is exactly how you feel.
Our mom had still lived in the flat, where we lived as a family together. We moved in there when I was only 1 year old and my sister not even born. So when my mom was gone, we were sitting there with a 100qm flat full with the complete set of things and memories out of over 30 years of family life .... and had to clear it out and renovate (at least partially) in 3 months period. We could not afford to keep it longer and honestly ... we did not want to.

We went through a million of things and we had to throw away stuff - lots of stuff. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes it was incredibly hard,  but we had to do it. We did not have space for all this and we desperatly needed to breath fresh air after so many years of fight. 

When we were done after some absolutely horrible weeks (even worse for my sister and her - now - husband, because they lived closer to our old hometown and did much more work than I did.) the place was empty. Some stuff that we did not want to or could not throw away we had transferred to our apartments and for the rest we rent a self storage ... 200 EUR rent a month, but the only choice we had. 

I had not much luck
with the things I took home. The TV broke after a few weeks, got repaired and died again 1.5 years later although it was not very old. One really nice lamp I had placed on a small table next to my couch fell down and burst into thousand pieces and my mom's - again not so old - computer died not much later - to give you only a few examples.

Slowly time passed by and my niece was born. New life - eagerly awaited and endlessly loved. She is the sweetest and coolest little girl on the planet.

When my sister moved with her family into a bigger place she was able to take some of the stuff from the self storage, but still ... lots of boxes, carpets, pieces of furniture were left. 
We discussed what to do with it and I have to admit I could not make decisions and take them to action. I had to just think of that place filled with the rests of our childhood life and I felt unable to move. It was like a bad mixture of being irrationally afraid to lose it and at the same time wanting nothing more than to get rid of it. In the end I was extremely grateful when my sister lately called and said: "The rent for the self storage is getting up again and you know what - I canceled the contract. Enough is enough. We clean it out for July 1st."

The rest of the furniture was removed by the bulk trash service and my
sister took home the rest of the boxes. We went through it on the phone and realized that lots of the things we were unable to throw away five years ago had gone through a transition ... from things loaded with cherished memories into inherited waste. They had lost their magic and now we could let them go.

What we will keep is our mom's collection of modern art, some boxes with books and most importantly a collection of photo albums
My niece and all hopefully in the future born babies in our family will never meet their grandparents and all we can do is telling them stories and showing them pictures to tell them about their family roots. What you see in the picture is the box with the photo albums, letters and postcards.

So what's left now ...

Big relief. This self storage place turned into a depressing shadow of  the past. It wasn't the shelter of our memories anymore. I am incredibly reliefed that it is gone now. 
Just like I am not the person that visits the grave to feel close to my parents but look into the nightsky or a sunset, I / we (I know it is the same for my sister) am / are not sticking to things. It's all in us and not in any belongings. 

PS: We need cure for cancer .... yesterday. If you consider a donation please have a look at my two favorite organizations:

1) The Mario Lemieux Foundation
- Mario Lemieux, the owner of a the Pittsburgh Penguins and one of the best hockey players ever, is a non-hodgkin-lymphoma survivor himself and his foundation supports the search for cure.

2) The Cowgirl Cure Foundation - is my dear friend Gina de Palma's foundation that helps to find cure for ovarian cancer. 


  1. Love it, although I sit in my office crying - but this - currently - shocks noone here

  2. what a wonderful post. full of simplicity and honesty. I raise my glass to you, my friend. Here's to clearing out inherited waste and holding on to precious memories.

  3. Beautiful post about an experience far too many can relate to; thank you for sharing. xx

  4. Thank you all and kisses to my sister(luck).