08/11/2014 08:37 EDT | Updated 10/11/2014 05:59 EDT

Putting My Mother's Life In Boxes

Paul Bradbury via Getty Images

My sister and I have been putting my mom's life into boxes. She died two months ago, so we are sorting through her things deciding what we keep, what goes to others who loved her, and what gets shipped off to strangers in need.

My mom loved her apartment. She left it quickly and unexpectedly by ambulance so her life is preserved there like in a shipwreck -- a life in motion frozen in time. Opened jars of jam waiting to be spread on her next piece of toast, crumpled sheets on her bed ready to be slept on for another night, and books with bookmarks dividing pages devoured and pages to be turned.

There is an eerie sense of voyeurism being in my mother's private space, not a feeling my sister and I enjoy. Even though we had visited her apartment countless times during the decades she lived there, the stuff on the surface is never as interesting as the stuff hidden in drawers, crammed at the back of closets or long forgotten in a discarded old purse.

Even so, I don't want much of what my mom left behind. Her furniture (from my childhood) won't fit into my already full house, her clothes are not my style, and her brands of soap and deodorant (which she bought in bulk and could never have finished even if she lived to be 100) are not ones I use.

Even her valuable jewelry evokes an emotional response that is ambivalent at best. She wanted me to have her large gold ring that she wore almost to the end. My father gave this ring to her during their fractious marriage, obviously sometime before their ensuing divorce. Perhaps it gave my mom a warm sense of nostalgia but when I hold it in my own hands it just feels cold.

But I have found one hidden treasure that I'm not letting go. I have gingerly placed it in an envelope, so it is lovingly preserved. It is her Canadian Immigration Identification Card that describes her status as "IMMIGRANT-LANDED". The stamp reads FEB 28 1957 HALIFAX. She arrived with my Dad on Vulcania Italian Lines from Trieste, having escaped Hungary a few months earlier.

This small faded piece of paper, the size of an old library card, is what I will pass down to my sons, in the hopes that it is cherished by many future generations. I do feel a radiant energy from this physical object. For me it represents hope and optimism, and guts. My parents' courage to leave a country that was the devil they knew, to take destiny into their own hands and to plant the seeds of life, my sister's and mine, that have taken root in a foreign land.

My mom never returned to her apartment so my sister and I do now. We are left with the task of putting her belongings into boxes and a ribbon around her life. We will soon walk out her door and close it behind us for the very last time.