Generous Before Leaving

I first noticed this behavior in my mother. Later I noticed it in other old people, friends of my mother. Every time I visited, she’d send me home with an armload of books, hardback, old, some that had been in the family for generations. Once she gave me a leaf blower, brand new, still in the box. It was too heavy for her to use, and she didn’t want to see it go to waste. Not that it mattered that I live in an apartment and have no use for a leaf blower, but it seemed so important to her that I have it. So I took it. Along with a bag of sweaters that belonged to my father. And a newsboy cap that almost fit. I didn’t realize how big my father’s head had been.

This divestiture of belongs wasn’t focused solely on myself. She’d send food to her neighbors, perfectly fine canned soups or even frozen vegetables. “I can’t eat all this,” she would say. “Then why did you buy all this food?” I would ask her. She thought she was hungry when she was in the store but later she just couldn’t bring herself to eat it, she would say, or some other rationalization.

She gave away furniture that she and father had collected over the years, paintings, anything to reduce what she called clutter. I don’t remember when this behavior of giving things away started, but when we moved her into hospice, I asked her about it. “I knew,” she said. “I knew I didn’t have much time left, and I wanted to make things simple for you and your sister.” Her house was nearly empty when we sold it after her passing. The realtor said she’d never seen a property more ready for a quick sale. “This place will be simple,” she said.

This is why I’m reluctant to accept gifts. Even those well intended, or sent as a thank-you, or for a birthday, or any other gift-giving celebration. To me, gifts are a way of letting go, a way of saying goodbye. Any time someone wants to give me something, I can’t help but feel suspicious, like there’s a secret motive behind it. And any way, the less stuff I receive now, the easier things will be for my own children when the time comes. I guess I’m like my mother that way. I like to keep things simple.

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