Growing up, my parents taught us the value of good works - not for the sake of reward - but simply because helping others was the right thing to do. I donated babysitting hours to a family who couldn't pay for a sitter, I watched pets and collected mail while neighbors were away, and on many occasions we shoveled snow not only for our sidewalk, but for many of the older residents of the neighborhood.
Since my mom's death, each of my trips to the house has resulted in at least one or two Goodwill runs. We've donated all mom's clothes. Some of her sewing supplies went to a group that makes blankets for babies with AIDS. Or maybe people in hospice, I'm not quite sure. Cans of food went to a local soup kitchen. Sheets, towels and office supplies went to the local animal shelter. And some of the furniture will go to a place that provides household items to formerly homeless families.
I dropped off the food and animal shelter supplies this weekend, after grueling hours of cleaning and organizing, and a lot of time spent standing in our half-empty house, screaming obscenities at my parents. I'm not happy to be doing any of this. I was completely freaked out to be spending four days alone in the house where I grew up and my mom died.
But when I got to the soup kitchen - run in borrowed space by members of a church whose building burned down on Valentine's day - they greeted me with such effusive thanks that I couldn't be angry anymore. They lost everything in the fire, and they'd only recently started their food programs again. The past few days have been awful, but but I left New York yesterday knowing that we've helped a lot of people in the course of emptying our house. And we'll help a bunch more before we're done. That doesn't balance the scales, but it helps.