When I woke today as every day, my cat softly batting my face as I hit snooze for the seventh time, I stumbled straight to the kitchen and put the kettle on for tea.
I’m not sure I even have a thought process that leads me through this morning ritual, or if muscle memory kicks in the second I get out of bed. I can never remember.
As the water climbed its way to boiling and steam moistened the air, I tried to ignore the liquid leaking from the kettle’s base and sliding over the counter to the floor. It’s been happening for a few months. Occasionally, the kettle also switches itself off mid-boil. So I’ve just been switching it back on, mopping up the puddles and refusing to admit the obvious: the kettle is dying.
Why am I attached to a kettle? Is it magic? Can I not afford a new one? They’re good questions.
In truth, the kettle’s only power is bringing water to a boil, which is a kind of magic I guess. And despite the considerable fiscal challenges of 2020, I am solvent enough to purchase new small appliances if needed.
It was my mum’s kettle. It was my mum’s kettle and it has outlived her for 15 years.
It’s a Sunbeam KE7500 type 606 and it’s at least 18 years old. Many times in the past decade and a half, I thought it was on its last legs. So many times I prepared to grieve for an inanimate chunk of metal that, to be honest, Mum didn’t even use that much. I even bought a new one several years ago, convinced of the incumbent’s imminent demise. But it lived on.
It’s the little kettle that could. But it really can’t anymore, and I don’t know how to let go.
When someone you love dies, everything they owned, everything they ever touched seems sacred. From diamonds to deck chairs, at first nothing is too small or mundane to hang on to. Whether or not you ever saw your loved one use or wear an item is inconsequential. It was theirs and so you vow to treasure it forever.
After a 21-month breast cancer-induced nightmare, my beautiful mum died at home at approximately 3am on October 21, 2005.
It was exactly two years and one week to the hour after progressive dementia had claimed my dad. They actually share the same Yahrzeit, the Jewish calendar anniversary of their deaths, a fact that comforts me, avowed atheism aside.
My sister Ariella and I packed up our parents’ house in what I can only describe as a griefy blur. Both post-war migrants, Mum from Poland, Dad from Egypt, they weren’t particularly wealthy or materialistic. There wasn’t a lot of expensive jewellery or other valuables, but financial value is irrelevant to the mourning.
From the old harmonica that Dad couldn’t play to the questionable paintings we knew we’d never hang, we kept pretty much everything except their clothes. It was like a reverse clearance sale. Everything must stay.
For about 10 years, Ariella and I held on to their worldly goods for dear life. I didn’t notice the brown and grey velour recliner chair was ugly as sin or that the “good china” was chipped (and also ugly as sin).
Aesthetics aside, their possessions consoled us. But gradually, something changed. We started to notice. Their furniture was shabby, their knick-knacks gauche, their cookware careworn. Though this isn’t how we phrased it at the time, none of it sparked joy anymore.
So, like morbid Marie Kondos, we began getting rid of all but the very sentimental things. Some we sold, some we donated and some only the council would take.
Years later, we’re still finding items to discard. In fact, on an out-of-reach shelf in my garage, along with a brand new kettle, are several mystery boxes of my parents’ belongings that haven’t been opened for 13 years.
When I first moved here, many of my parents’ whitegoods and appliances came with me. The washing machine, microwave, fridge and television all carked it within their expected lifespans, leaving only the kettle in their wake.
The innocuous kettle, with a cat’s abundance of lives. It’s seen me through three flatmates, five boyfriends, one nervous breakdown and several bad haircuts. But it’s terminal now, and I have to pull the plug.
But what do you do with a broken kettle you’re overly emotionally attached to? How do you throw away one of the last tangible vestiges of your mother’s legacy? What if her soul really is trapped inside it, as you’ve joked about for years?
I honestly don’t know. I can’t just throw it in the bin. If only a sea burial wasn’t wrong in 17 different ways.
There’s no one right way to grieve and no one right way to dispose of a deceased loved one’s estate.
Keep everything. Keep nothing. Keep calm, carry on. Do whatever hurts least at first and reassess whenever the mood takes you.
It’s a long process and a fascinating one at that. You’ll find pleasure and pain in trivial objects and unexpected places, even after 15 years. The other day I cried over her favourite packet noodles. I blame 2020.
In the Jewish community, when someone dies we say to the bereaved, “Langes leben” or “I wish you a long life”. I’ve always loved the sentiment, I just didn’t realise it extended to kettles.
Nadine von Cohen is a Sydney-based writer and refugee advocate who can usually be found on Twitter swearing in all caps and refusing to punctuate.