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When Taking on Responsibility for Something Goes Too Far

Personal Perspective: Clear the deck for your own life.

Key points

  • Can you be unreasonably responsible?
  • What obligations do you have for the things your parents left behind?
  • Saying no does not make you irresponsible when it comes to taking care of someone else's stuff.
  • Bottom line: You are not responsible for everything your loved one left behind. Clear the deck for your life.
Carrie Knowles
My Mother's bowling ball became my responsibility.
Carrie Knowles

Being responsible is part of being an adult.

Being responsible is a good thing…but sometimes, it’s not.

Let me tell you about my mother’s bowling ball.

Among many other things that she did, my mother was a bowler. She bowled in a couple weekly women’s leagues and had an occasional 200+ game. Over her years bowling, her trophies cropped up around the house like feral garden gnomes.

Bowling was her way to relax, unwind, have some fun, hang out with her friends, and, basically, get away from whatever family/household responsibilities she was trying to avoid. Not that she didn’t like being a mother and taking care of us or our home. She was uber-responsible on all fronts and made sure we sat down together for dinner every night as a family.

We often ate by candlelight (see an earlier column about Hygge) whether we were eating canned soup and grilled cheese sandwiches or pot roast with vegetables from our garden, rice or potatoes, and salad.

Eating by candlelight was, like bowling, my mother’s way of unwinding from the tug and pull of raising four children pretty much singlehandedly while our father traveled around the country for his work.

Mom loved many things, but bowling was a special joy for her.

When Alzheimer’s struck, her bowling days were finished.

People often talk about the difficulty of taking the car away but fail to realize that hobbies and activities like gardening, golf, cooking, travel, and bowling, that get lost in the declining years of Alzheimer’s, are just as hard of a loss for the Alzheimer’s victim as losing the privilege of driving the car.

As her disease progressed, the bowling ball got pushed into the back of the closet and stayed there.

Yes, she eventually forgot that she had ever bowled. And, no, she never asked me to take responsibility for her bowling ball. But when she died and we were sorting through her things and found the bowling ball, we all looked at each other and realized that we didn’t have the heart to give that bit of her joy away to the Goodwill.

Some people inherit the good jewelry or even stocks and bonds: I inherited Mom’s bowling ball.

Here’s the bowling ball lesson: Once you take on a responsibility that has nothing to do with what you want to do or agree to do some job that no one else wants, including you, it’s hard to stop being responsible.

Mom died in 2000. Since then, I have lived in four different homes in three different cities and have dutifully carried my mother’s bowling ball along for the ride from house to house, city to city.

I should add here that I am not a bowler. Neither are any of my siblings. It was Mom’s thing and we graciously stayed out of the way of her bragging rights to her winning games. None of us felt the need to compete.

So why is my mother’s bowling ball now resting in our garage?

My mother didn’t ask me on her death bed to honor her life by caring for her bowling ball. Nor do I plan to ask one of our children to care for her bowling ball after I am gone.

It’s a bowling ball. It’s heavy. The finger holes were drilled out to fit her hand. She had big hands for a woman. Even if I did bowl, I cannot comfortably pick it up with one hand.

It’s not something I want to or could display on a shelf or rest on our fireplace mantel.

It’s just a heavy black bowling ball.

Next time you think about taking on the responsibility for some object that belonged to someone else or some job that no one else wanted, think of my mother’s bowling ball.

Carrie Knowles
A garden ornament?
Carrie Knowles

You have enough of your own heavy loads to carry in this life; you don’t need to shoulder someone else’s bowling ball as well.

Have I gotten rid of her bowling ball? Not yet, but I’m toying with the idea of putting it in my garden as an ornament.

The cool red leather bag she bought to carry it in, well, that’s another story. I’m thinking of turning it into a piece of carry-on luggage.

She’d like that.

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