I sold a doll last week to an 83-year-old collector. I know she was 83 because she told me so to apologize for her anxiety at using Paypal to pay me. She said she had used it before, but she wanted to make sure she did not make a mistake this time. She then told me her age, as if offering an excuse, and she said that this purchase—an expensive one—would likely be “her last doll.”
Reading that phrase brought me up short. What is it like to acknowledge that you are nearing the end of your life and are making the final addition to a collection that has meant so much to you throughout the years? Do you accept that fact gracefully, happy that you can complete your collection with the addition of a doll you have pursued for a long time? Or are you bitter and angry at the knowledge that you must soon give up the people and objects that you have held so dear?
Has this woman made plans for what will happen to her collection after she passes? Does she have a grandson or granddaughter who will appreciate and preserve it? Or will it end up on eBay, with sons and daughters fighting over the proceeds?
This brief email exchange with a woman I do not know has inevitably turned my thoughts to my own mother. My mother is not yet dead, but, in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, she is not really alive either. Mom and I shared our love of dolls and doll collecting since I was a senior in college, and she bought me my first collector doll. I do not know what my mother’s “last doll” was, and I don’t care to know. I combined my mother’s doll collection with my own after she no longer recognized them, and before my father carried out his threat to throw them out. Now, although they are mingled in my doll cabinets with my own, I know which dolls are mom’s, and, in many cases, I can tell you where and under what circumstances she came to own individual dolls. While some were obtained at conventions we attended together, others were gifts from me for birthdays, Christmas, and Mother’s Day. In a few cases, I found cards I had written to her that she saved and tucked in the boxes of specific dolls.
Looking at mom’s dolls is very bittersweet for me. It seems so wrong that they are in my possession before she has been laid to rest. Before her illness, I would often joke with her, saying that the first thing I would do after she died would be to raid her collection for the dolls that I particularly coveted. She would smile and laugh—we shared a mutual enjoyment of macabre humor. I of course did not know that I would inherit her dolls while she was still alive, or that she would cease being able to take care of herself while still in her 60s.
I am glad that I played a part in enabling an elderly collector obtain her “last doll.” She seemed so excited about it—writing me repeatedly to make sure I would hold it for her. I hope it brings a bit of joy and beauty into her life as she nears its end. In fact, I hope that for everyone.