Archive for Weekly Words of Wisdom Posts

published in Change, Clutter, Weekly Words of Wisdom by Maryanne | August 28, 2014 | 3 Comments

 Say WHAT? Sorting Other People’s Stuff


Brown cardboard boxes arranged in stack

 “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?”

– Ann Landers

In boxes, Ann. Lots of boxes.

The week after my Mom passed away in March, my brothers and their families and I found ourselves in the difficult, but perhaps familiar, position of having to go through all her things. We did this so soon partly because we were all together in Calgary anyway, so we may as well get it done – and partly because my Mom’s apartment was a life lease and the contract required we sell the property back within thirty days of the end of the month she passed away. We had to act quickly.

And boy, did we ever…like ripping off a Band-Aid, it was fast but painful.

My Mom loved her stuff. Whether she used it, wore it, read it, enjoyed it or even saw it mattered far less than having it. This may have stemmed from growing up in the Depression – but getting her to part with anything she wasn’t ready to was like trying to pry a barnacle off a rock.

Interestingly, her apartment was full, yes – but it was a lovely atmosphere…warm, welcoming and relaxing versus cluttered and overwhelming.

Until, of course, the time came for all of us to go through her closets, cupboards, bureaus and storage locker. That we felt overwhelmed is an understatement. But on the upside, our grief, sorrow and shock over her sudden passing shifted – albeit temporarily – to frustration at the sheer volume of stuff we had to sort through…most of which hadn’t seen the light of day in years.

By day six (with anywhere from four to eight people working eight hour days), we’d worked our way down to the storage locker in the basement. By that point, I think we’d all had enough – especially since we had packed those exact same boxes 15 years ago when we’d moved my Mom from her house!

“This is unbelievable,” remarked one of my brothers.

“Sure is,” I said, wrapping my sixteenth coffee mug in a newspaper from 1994 and tucking it alongside my childhood Barbie clothes collection which was piled on top of yet another stack of unused Christmas cards from the sixties. Then I taped up the box, labelled it with my name and added it to the growing pile.

For the apple, as the saying goes, doesn’t fall from the tree.

Forty-five boxes, two bureaus, two desks, a chair, a table and two lamps later, I was rather proud of myself for not taking more. My family, of course, thinks I’m nuts to be shipping all this old stuff to my already-full bungalow in BC – but they’ve been very polite and understanding on the matter…and perhaps even a tad relieved that a bit more of what my Mom loved (but they don’t want or have room for) is staying in the family.

Because believe me, we gave away an awful lot – especially clothes – to the Sally Ann.

And since we did the bulk of all this sorting only a week after our Mom had passed away, emotion obviously played a significant role in determining what I would keep. And yet, I think I was still able to stick somewhat to my usual rule when it comes to de-cluttering:

“If it’s not beautiful, useful or sentimental, it goes.”

– Sarah Ban Breathnach

But since I don’t physically have the room to store, long term, all of which I have kept – plus my own boxes of stuff, still unopened from when I moved in 4 years ago, I suspect many items are destined to be recycled as gifts.

And then there are the family photos. Eleven boxes of them…unsorted! Never mind the ones already in my basement needing to be dealt with. These are not my photos. These are from when we were growing up – and my Mom’s childhood photos, too.

So, on my last trip back to Alberta, I loaded up my car with all the photos that need to be sorted, put into albums and distributed to family members.

Also on this trip, some of us went through all the boxes of Christmas ornaments that had been stored in my Mom’s storage locker. We’d run out of time and patience to deal with those in March, so we dealt with them in August instead. True to form, for every ornament my brothers kept, I kept ten…plus the lights. So between my own decorations and my Mom’s, I am now equipped to decorate four houses for Christmas and I have enough wattage to light up the block (think Chevy Chases’ Christmas Vacation).

There were also a few miscellaneous boxes and suitcases that hadn’t been gone through at my Mom’s in the spring, so we tackled those as well. Then, when all was said and done, we packed up the goods to be given to charity and dropped them off at the Strathmore “Recyclers” – where people take not just cans and bottles to be recycled but also clothes, household items, etc.

When we pulled up to the Recyclers with the van full of boxes, my sister-in-law directed me where to put them.

“And then get out of the way,” she said, “because people will move in fast.”

I did as I was told and she was right…people did move fast. I’d scarcely put the first box on the ground when an older lady reached in and promptly pulled out a small rocking chair.

“This will be perfect for my granddaughter’s dolls!” she cried.

“Well,” I said, “just wait till you see what I have in the next box.”

I ran back to the van and pulled out two large and rather ugly knitted teddy bears. I ran back to the lady and held them out to her.

“Do you think your granddaughter would like these?” I asked.

“Oh yes!” she replied, reaching for them.

“So would my grandkids!” said the woman behind her.

Uh oh. I suggested one lady take one bear and the other lady take the other.

“No!” said the first lady. “You don’t split up a pair of teddy bears like this…they go together.”

I made an executive decision and handed both bears to the first woman and then high-tailed it out of there – but not before reaching one last time into one of our boxes and plucking out a small stuffed bunny covered in cat hair and shoving it in my back pocket, hoping my family wouldn’t notice. They did.

Back home again in BC, I left the photo boxes in my living room because that made the most sense. Why lug them all down into the crawlspace when I would just have to bring them all up again? The answer, of course, is that having to look at all those boxes, draped in ugly sheets to protect them from the sun, was not conducive for inspiring me to actually start the task of sorting through the photos!

Instead, I found myself avoiding going into the living room because I couldn’t stand the sight of the boxes, nor the thought of all the work…never mind the residual resentment over the fact that had my parents, somewhere along the line, bothered to actually sort their photos themselves, this would not be my problem.

That ship, however, has sailed…and since I willingly volunteered to take on the task of sorting said photos, I will do so lovingly. But I will not spend the next six months staring at the ugly boxes in my living room, cluttering up my space and soul. So in a burst of rare August energy the other day, I leapt up from my hammock and promptly moved the boxes into the basement – and will bring them up, one at a time, to sort through in the fall.

Chocolate bunny stuffy

As for the bunny retrieved during my rapid exit from the Strathmore Recyclers? Well, after removing the cat hair, I asked myself the clutter criteria questions:

Is it beautiful? He’s cute, yes.

Is it sentimental? Yes. The cat hair was from my Mom’s cat, Buster. I have fond memories of Buster sleeping beside his bunny in my Mom’s living room.

Is it useful? Sure. He’s guarding the window in my bathroom and keeping a sand dollar company.

As for all the rest of the stuff from my Mom’s place? Well, if you happen to get a card in the mail from me – it will probably be rather retro. And if you’re really lucky, you might even get an old coffee cup from Vegas or Hawaii – or a “memory mug,” as my Mom liked to call them. Granted, they won’t be your memories…but who can’t find a use for a much-loved coffee mug 🙂

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the upcoming book, Barrier Removed; A Tough Love Guide to Achieving Your Dreams. Maryanne also writes screenplays and play scripts, including the play, Saviour. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and the Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund.


published in Change, Death, Inspiration, Relationships, Travel, Weekly Words of Wisdom by Maryanne | July 15, 2014 | 7 Comments

Even the Best Parties Have to End



Fireworks on Canada Day, Ottawa, ON, 2014

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, made to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”

– Jack Kerouac

In early July, I was in Ottawa with my family for our Mom’s interment. Her wish had been that, when the time came, all of us kids and our families return to her hometown of Ottawa for a vacation around Canada Day.

MA & Pat on Canada Day

Maryanne & Pat on Parliament Hill, Canada Day 2014

And what a vacation it was. Canada Day on Parliament Hill was a hoot…and hot! But right before the fireworks began, the skies opened up and we all got drenched.


Mary, Laura, Pat, Melanie, Doug, Emily, Tracey & Kim at Fireworks

The interment was at Pinecrest Cemetery the next day. There were 20 of us – family and friends – all gathered around my Grandparent’s grave, where my Mom was to be laid to rest. After the Minister spoke, we all watched as two of my brother’s, George and Doug, gently lowered our Mom’s urn into the ground. My heart broke open and the tears flowed; the circle was complete.

My eldest brother, Pat, had been standing across from me on the other side of the semi-circle. Although us four kids hadn’t planned ahead of time specifically who would place the urn in the grave, when George and Doug stepped forward to do so, it felt right. Afterwards, both Pat and I remarked on how beautifully it had all just…unfolded.


Maryanne at lunch at Chateau Laurier

After the interment, we all went to the Chateau Laurier for a delightful reception lunch on the Terrace. We drank Manhattan’s, reminisced, got caught up with extended family – all on my Dad’s side – and laughed the afternoon away. My Mom was an only child but had made sure we stayed in touch with our Dad’s brothers and their families, even though she and Dad had been divorced since 1974 – and my Dad’s family lived in Eastern Canada while we were in the West.


Sylvie, Doug & Karen toasting Mom

But perhaps it was because she was an only child that my Mom understood so well the importance of family. She also knew that people don’t stay connected without effort – hence the second farewell party in Ottawa. After lunch at the Chateau, my brothers and their families and I all went for a swim and drinks by the pool. Later that evening we went out for dinner but as we were standing on the street, trying to choose a restaurant, the skies again opened up and we got soaked.

Our week in Ottawa didn’t just honour our Mom’s final wishes; it exemplified a life well-lived…a mad mix of sadness and joy, laughter and tears, reminiscing and story-telling, compromise and collaboration, getting lost and finding our way again, sunshine and rain. Our time together was a wonderful reminder that the indelible spirit of an incredibly strong woman lives on in all of us. That fabulous Roman candle burns on 🙂


Mom having tea at the Empress, Victoria, 2012

I also realized that it isn’t just our similarities and shared memories that bond us but also our differences…for that, my brothers keep reminding me, is where perspective comes from.

Of course, hanging out in a cemetery is another effective teacher of perspective. There’s nothing quite like a headstone to remind us that every party – even the best ones – must come to an end, so we better be enjoying and appreciating the one we’re at.

I don’t know when my party will end. Like my Mom, however, I do know where my physical remains will end up. In fact, I visit my final resting place every few months when I visit John’s grave at Queen’s Park Cemetery in Calgary. It’s a tangible reminder that the party will end, I just don’t know when – so I better make each day count. For just as my Mom not having siblings helps me appreciate my family, so, too, does John’s life being cut short at 32 help me appreciate the time that I still have.

However, just in case I haven’t been paying close enough attention – and taking notes – the Universe threw in yet another not-so-friendly reminder about the brevity of life. On the drive back to Timmins from Ottawa, my brother, Pat, and his partner, Mary, were in a near head-on collision on the highway and ended up in a farmer’s field. Both cars were totalled.

“We’re pretty bruised up,” Pat told me on the phone. “But it’s unbelievable we walked away from that.”

The occupants in the other car were also treated for minor injuries. The driver of the pick-up, who caused the crash by passing unsafely, was charged with careless driving.

I love my life; for the most part, my party is a heck of a lot of fun these days. If I died tomorrow, I would be okay with that. What terrifies me far more than my own death is the threat of my favourite people leaving the party too soon. I weathered the recent deaths of my Mom and dog, Soda, fairly well because in the game of life, those were fair and acceptable. Losing loved ones in the prime of life due to other people’s stupidity, however, does not bode well.

But the older I get, the more I realize that life is going to unfold the way it is going to unfold. And it won’t always be beautiful. I just have to remind myself that although we can’t always control what happens, we can control how we respond to what happens – and what lessons we choose to learn. With enough searching, perhaps there is even beauty to be found…but again, that’s where the perspective comes in.

Canal in Ottawa

Ottawa canal at dusk

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the upcoming book, Barrier Removed; A Tough Love Guide to Achieving Your Dreams. Maryanne also writes screenplays and play scripts, including the play, Saviour. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and the Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund.

published in Health, Inspiration, Life Balance, Weekly Words of Wisdom by Maryanne | May 29, 2014 | 1 Comment




“You did not come to sit on the sidelines and watch. You came to dance.”

Veronica Hay, Magazine of People and Possibilities

dirty shoes pic

Here is the link to view the May 28th WWOW, “Confessions of a Dirty Shoe Dancer.”

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