Skip to content

On the Top Rung, but Not Teetering

My mother-in-law passed recently. It was October 14 and one day before her ninety-ninth birthday. She was a sassy, small-bodied Long Islander turned Vermonter who decades ago retired to sunnier states to play golf. I’ll miss seeing her, and I’ll miss what she brought out in me.

The anniversary of my father’s death is Halloween, my mother’s November 5, and my father-in-law’s November 27. I feel the loss of my parents every fall. This year, I am starkly aware of the rung to which I’ve stepped on the generational ladder. I’m in motion as I make sense of all this.

Moving Through It

I’ve done a few decluttering projects in 2021, and have coached people on the same. Most recently, I’ve made big progress cleaning a room upstairs. The space, solely mine (if it were in the backyard it would be my she shed), had become uncharacteristically messy and uncomfortable. It was not supporting who I am and what I want to do.

The bulk of the clutter belonged to me; some of it accumulated as my parents left the planet. Some came from my grandparents. Sorting through what is left behind takes time.

In the past weeks I’ve given away furniture, books, lamps, maps, and pitchers. A few of the things I’ve thrown away have surprised me. I’ve felt joy, obligation, and nostalgia. Irritation. More than once I’ve muttered “What the hell?” Traits, tendencies, stories, and roles handed down to me have filtered through my consciousness. I’ve revisited old beliefs and have realized how hard it is to let go sometimes.

Timing is Everything

Being near a death on Halloween made the holiday jarring for me. Looking at the history of the day helps me to reframe. I can easily embrace the idea of this time as the beginning of a new year. As I plant more bulbs and rearrange perennials, I am actively moving toward the idea of reaching this season again and again. Darkness and cold push me to cut and bring my herbs inside; it is natural to reflect on the life cycle and on all that is lost. I felt similarly a year ago. The energy of this season fuels decisions around what to keep, what to release, and what to change.

Moving another book into the donate pile, I notice the line of a song I am singing under my breath. “Some things change, some stay the same . . . ” The melody pushes through my memory banks to deliver the gift of Hymn to Her released in 1986 by the Pretenders (If you want to absolutely wallow in the tune, listen to this version.) Had I looked for an anthem for this project—for this season, for this time in my life—I could not have found something more apropos. I revel in being able to score the album on vinyl at Barre’s Exile on Main Street; now I now bring something into the room.

That Ladder I Mentioned

My granddaughter loves animal facts. She is four years old and a stickler about the differences between cheetahs and leopards. She can identify species of deer and has already proven herself a good fisher. Her favorite holiday is Halloween.

My stepdaughter is in her thirties. She owns a house in Florida, sells adventure packages, and is raising her child. The sun and CrossFit energize her. She doesn’t know it yet (and I don’t know if she reads my blog!), but she’s going to get some boxes. Barbies, Cabbage Patch dolls, and stuffed animals stashed in our basement since her college years are heading her way.

I hike a peak almost every week. Nature renews my perspective and I love the feeling of wide-open spaces. I hum a lot but tend to take things too seriously. The focus of my work right now is celebrating the human spirit. I’m not ready to use the word crone, but Wise Woman feels like a worthy aspiration.

More from Hymn to Her

She will always carry on
Something is lost
But something is found
They will keep on speaking her name
Some things change
Some stay the same

Susan McDowell is a life coach based in Central Vermont.
Schedule a half-hour consult (no cost, no obligation) to explore decluttering or a larger transition.

Read more of Susan’s blog.

4 thoughts on “On the Top Rung, but Not Teetering”

  1. Christina T Russo-Fraysier

    Thank you for sharing…I am a recent user and seldom visitor of Facebook. Today is the first day in months that I have visited. Thank you so much for your words. They spoke to me.

Comments are closed.