Left to clear out the apartment after her mother's sudden death, Jane Boyd discovered the true worth of earthly possessions.

Dear Mom: If only your will had told me what to do with it all.
My mother was neither a hoarder nor a pack rat, and yet the task of disposing of her things after she died was so exhausting and had me so frazzled that the night before movers were to arrive at her apartment I found myself at 10 p.m. frantically rummaging through the dumpster behind her building in search of my cellphone I was sure I'd thrown in the garbage. I cursed my carelessness and stupidity—and the streak of oily goop smeared across my arm.

Dear God: Don't let me lose my phone. Not now. Please.
Not that there's a good time, but tomorrow her home phone would be shut off, everything would be gone, and I was alone in a town I didn't live in. I needed my phone to reply to friends in the city: How ARE u? Fine. I'm in a dumpster—call u later!

It was the end of September. She died in August, unexpectedly, and I didn't get to ask the important questions I had ready for when The End grew near: "Mom, do you have any last wishes I don't know about, now that your lifelong crush James Garner is dead? Any final advice for me, other than marry a millionaire if I don't get a book published?" Also: "What should I do with your stuff?"

That summer in the hospital after she fell, when it was clear she'd have to move from her three-bedroom apartment to a retirement home, we broached the subject of a furniture purge. There was no urgency, and she didn't seem concerned. Then suddenly she was gone, and I had six weeks to empty out her place down to the mystery keys in the kitchen drawer.

Dear TGM, Barrister & Solicitor: It seems to me the phrase "I give, devise and bequeath all the assets of my estate…" is a clear case of TLI (Too Little Information). For example, where does it say if I should keep the bowl she mixed all our birthday cakes in, when I don't bake and have a fear of using hand mixers?

From the dining room table, once Homework Central, to her favourite antique chair and the piano on which she played "Moonlight Sonata" a thousand times or more—every item felt like another loss to grieve and a reminder note to self: I am a single, childless woman, and the last person who may ever love me and my flaws so unquestioningly and whose opinion of all my stories is "Love it, honey!" (vs."What is your angle here?") is gone.

"Do you need a toaster? A coffee table? A bedroom set? Lamps with flattering, low-wattage bulbs?" I'd ask friends while staring with glazed eyes at the dozens of bridal shower teacups and the vases from every florist delivery ever received. Each day I scribbled BOOKS! on my to-do list, not knowing what to do with them.

"What makes sense," I told a friend, "is to keep only what's useful or sentimental—the things that matter most." With one last chance to do something for someone who'd done so much for me, I wanted to get this right. But when it came to the "sentimental," how would I avoid needing to rent a storage locker the size of a small bungalow? My brother, 2,000 miles away, didn't want anything—I mailed him the yearbooks with the embarrassing hair photos anyway.

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