• Martha Clark Scala

Grief's Surprising Byproduct

Updated: Oct 4, 2019


October, 2018


How My Sister's Death Actually Brought Joy

My mind is on stuff this October because the five-year anniversary of my sister’s death nears. She had lots of stuff. When malignant melanoma was ravaging her body, I raised a difficult topic with her.

“Margo, what will happen to your stuff?”

To her credit, she didn’t flinch. I found out later that she really appreciated my willingness to discuss her fate directly.

I realized my sister knew how sick she was when she went way out of character to meet with a lawyer to discuss estate planning. She was dead three months later.

Legal documents provide instructions for heirs about disposition of assets but how many of us make a detailed list of our stuff? And if there is a miraculous list of precious belongings, does it include designations of who should get what? I’m guessing that’s a rarity.

So. The stuff. Margo collected and accumulated stuff. When we visited Margo’s house in 2006, my mother’s exclamation when we got back in the car was “That was a disaster!” She was right.

Sort of.

It’s true that the house was so cluttered that we couldn’t move freely through some of the rooms. It’s also true that Margo had enough nightgowns, for example, to last a couple of lifetimes without needing to do laundry. And books. And cans of Febreze spray. And more.

But what’s also true is that this disaster of a home contained a massive collection of figurines. The collection was mainly ceramic and hence quite fragile. Additional items were made of bronze, glass, wood and other various materials. I used to tease Margo that her house contained an entire zoo. She wasn’t offended; she just giggled.

A large percentage of the figurines were horses. Margo adored horses, and was quite the equestrian when she was young. I remember the blue, red, green and yellow ribbons on display in her childhood bedroom.

But Margo stopped riding, and that is another long story. Of relevance to this tale is her daughter’s recent assessment of Margo’s obsession with collecting horses: “She really lost the love of her life when she stopped riding, and the collection was a way she could stay connected to it.”

I agree with my niece wholeheartedly. Perhaps the happiest years of Margo’s life were the first two decades – before she married an abusive alcoholic. Before she battled with binge drinking, too. It makes sense to me that Margo would attempt to sustain a connection to the more innocent and uncomplicated era of her life.

By the time she was sixty-six years old, and diagnosed with a malignant skin cancer that would kill her, Margo’s house was even more of a disaster. I scheduled a visit to spend time with her because she had indicated a readiness to start getting rid of things.

I hardly got any resistance when I suggested we donate her books. She was reading books solely on her beloved Kindle by that time so she understood my logic.

At the town dump, there was a designated area where you could drop off things you no longer wanted. You could also select anything in this area and take it home. Margo used to call it “Sherborn Mall.”

We took multiple carloads of mysteries, classics and contemporary novels to Sherborn Mall. I will never forget the look of pure joy on Margo’s face when she discovered that most of the books we had dropped off on a previous trip to the dump had already been claimed. This letting go of stuff elated her. Me too.

But the horses . . . what would she do with those beloved figurines?

My niece, Danielle, was recruited to help her mother sell some of the valuable horses via Margo’s eBay account. They had some successes while Margo’s health declined both rapidly and drastically. My sister – always a generous soul – also selected specific items to be gifted to a number of people but in particular, some of her collector buddies.

One of those buddies was Kristina Lucas Francis, a full-time ceramic artist and commercial sculptor whose specialty is animal art. The twenty-odd figurines that Danielle packaged ever-so-carefully and sent to Kristina made the joy multiply. Margo was thrilled to give those pieces to someone who would relish them, and Kristina was over-the-moon ecstatic. She even wrote a blog about it.

Danielle spent months clearing out Margo’s house after her death. The nightgowns and multiple bags of clothing went to a charity that helped women in desperate need. We agreed that Margo would have been so tickled with this decision. This eased our grief considerably.

While Danielle’s intent was to keep selling the collection, other estate closure tasks were staggering. As a result, all the remaining figurines were wrapped with caution and placed in boxes that were shipped to my niece’s home.

Nearly five years later, Danielle needed to move to a smaller apartment. She asked me what to do with Margo’s collection. There wasn’t enough room for them in the new residence and it didn’t feel right to Danielle to just place the stacks of boxes in storage.

I remembered Kristina’s joy when she received the gifts from Margo and suggested to Danielle that the whole remaining collection be offered to her. Danielle and I agreed that this option would be the best way to honor Margo and her passion for collecting while allowing Danielle to let go of this connection to her mother and move on with her life.

When I learned that Kristina accepted Danielle’s offer with sheer elation and enthusiasm, I was overjoyed.

The boxes of figurines are en route to their new owner as I write these words. And I picture Margo joining me with a grin from ear to ear. Never, in a million years, could I have predicted this happy outcome.

This is how grief’s bizarre byproduct was joy. Believe me, there was no joy in letting go of Margo. And there wasn’t much joy in witnessing her “disaster,” either. But now, five years after Margo’s death, joy abounds as we celebrate Margo’s legacy, and as her impressive collection travels to its new home.

Got any tales of how joy has re-emerged despite your grief? Please feel free to share!


Comments on this blog post are welcome — see the bottom of this page.

Prompts For Joy

This month’s Prompts for Joy are offered in memory of one of my heroines: Aretha Franklin. Here are a couple of her stellar performances from 2015:

Click here to hear the Queen of Soul sing an operatic classic.

Click here for Aretha’s rendition of Natural Woman at Kennedy Center Honors.

Rest in soulful and joyful peace, Aretha Franklin: 3/25/42 – 8/16/18

Click here for all previous Prompts for Joy.

Pictured Above

My joyful sister. Yet another exquisite photograph by my father, Geoffrey Clark.