It is midnight here in Iowa and I can’t sleep. Instead, I find my mind going a mile a minute, looking back to last year.

A year ago I held a garage sale in April. My mother came to our house those days, the first day laboriously climbing up our front steps with a sack in each arm, containing things she’d found to sell. Despite a chill in the air, she spent part of the day on the front porch, smoking her cigarettes, drinking coffee, and visiting with both family and people she recognized. The second morning she came bearing a bag of the white doughnuts she’d loved, hurrying into the kitchen to put them on the table. She came back outside a few minutes later, a little dazed, with blood seeping from a wound on her hand. “I fell against the doorway,” she said, and I was glad my sister Joan, a nurse, was there to clean and bandage the thin skin. I couldn’t understand then how my mother could fall against a doorway. Was there already cancer in her brain that affected her balance? Was it around the same time that she ran her vehicle into a tree in her yard?

Mom loved my garage sales.  It was never really about the money she made, but more about the people. 

I had another sale in July.  This time the weather was hot, even stifling.  I didn’t think my mother would make it, but she did. In fact, one of the mornings when I opened up my door, I was startled to see her already sitting on the front porch. She’d arrived very early, before we’d turned the lights on in the living room. We’d been in the kitchen, drinking coffee and eating breakfast, so she sat down on the outdoor bench and had a cigarette.

“Why didn’t you knock?” I’d asked

“I didn’t want to bother you.” was her answer. 

My goal in having the mid-summer garage sale was to make enough money to pay for my husband’s COBRA medical insurance payment since he’d just lost his job and I couldn’t stand the thought of him losing insurance too.  When my mother found out she’d made $40 , she told me to keep it to help pay for David’s insurance, but I couldn’t take her money.

By the time I had a September sale, my mother had gotten her diagnosis of terminal lung cancer and was in the midst of her radiation treatments.  She called me on the morning of the sale.

“I’m so sorry I won’t be there this time,” she said with a definite weariness in her voice. “I didn’t get a chance to go through my things, and I’m just too tired to come.”

“It’s okay, Mom. I’ll help you go through things for the next sale in the spring. You can be in that one.”

My mother was silent.

Did she know?  The oncologist had led us to believe that, with treatment, our mother might extend her life for months, even perhaps years, yet she died shortly after she completed her radiation.

“I’m going to start sorting through things soon,” she told me that last week before she began going downhill. “When I get my energy back, I want to sort through everything.”

She never got her energy back. My mother died in November.

And now it is April, and I am planning another garage sale.

As always before, many of my mother’s things will be in this sale. But I think this fact just hit me tonight: My mother won’t be there.

I have spent hours going through my mother’s things. Each and every time I drove up her driveway I half expected her to come out of the door to meet me.


I have repeatedly steeled myself for the fresh feeling of loss each time I entered her home. I have sorted through papers and books, looking for anything with her handwriting on, and searching for items with special meaning. I have brought many of those things home and foisted others upon my siblings. And still we were left with a great deal of items of questionable economic or emotional value. I have spent countless hours sorting and pricing, wrapping and boxing up things of my mother’s for this upcoming sale that she wanted to be a part of.

And in a couple of days, strangers will be here, rifling through those things, carelessly passing over the vintage sheets of music, cracked glassware, books and quilting material. I’m not sure how I feel about that.  

It isn’t really about the things, is it? The majority of the items are those she would have sold herself if she’d had the time and energy to sort.

No, it is about the woman who loved my garage sales, the one who sat on the porch watching people.  

I miss my mother.

I noticed a grief support group announcement in a local newspaper not too long ago. It is suggested you wait until approximately four months after your loved one has passed away before you attend this group, the article said, and I wondered why.

Now I think I know.

It has been five months since my mother died, and it feels like I am just getting started grieving the loss of her presence. The first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, her first birthday~ I have passed those markers of missing her. This week it will be the first garage sale. Then will come the first Mother’s Day, my first anniversary without a card from her, the first Fourth of July, until finally, my birthday, the anniversary of the day she died.

I have avoided writing about my mother recently, and thus didn’t write about much of anything. In an attempt to avoid the maudlin, I wasn’t true to myself.  It is what it is, this journey through grief, and writing about it is the way I work through it. It is nearly 1:30 a.m. now, and I have a busy day ahead of me tomorrow; pricing those last books, making signs, and then a trip to the grocery store too. 

I think we need some white doughnuts.


  1. Carolyn Brooks says:

    Mary: I think your mother will be at your garage sale. I think she will be looking down at you with pride on that day. I want to share a link to a website I came across recently: http://www.SpiritEmail.com
    You can email a loved one who has passed away, and it helps to send them messages and get things off our mind that we want to share with them. It makes me feel better after I send my mother emails this way.

    Good luck with your garage sale. Hope the weather holds up for you.
    Love your writing blogs!!

    • Lisa says:

      I agree with Carolyn.. your mom will be there in spirit… I hope you do well today and share some pictures when you get set up etc. Hopefully the weather clears up out there for the rest of the week! Good Luck!


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