Several years ago, I wrote a post titled “Moving On,” about my parents moving from our childhood home to a continuing care community. It was a wonderful move for many reasons, and at the time I wrote that in spite of the move being bittersweet, I was grateful for the fact that my parents were leaving our childhood home for a better life for them.
Little did I know that in just a few short years, we’d lose our mom to the devastating diagnosis of cancer. But we were so glad that our dad had the comfort and support of so many kind people who surrounded him in his relatively new community. We were aware that Dad was having a very rough time without his bride of so many years. And when he had a heart attack earlier this year, we knew the broken heart was literal. What we didn’t expect – not that you can ever expect these things – was that we’d lose Dad, too, just a little over a year after losing Mom.
The loss of both of our parents in such a short period of time has been beyond devastating for both me and my sister. They may have been considered old in years by some, but they were active, vibrant, and youthful, and it’s still hard for all of us to wrap our heads around the fact that they’re both gone.
And then came the emptying out of their home. Every piece of furniture, every article of clothing, every dish, every memory from our childhood needed to be gone through and assigned a category: give away, throw away, donate, or hold onto for dear life. In spite of my current mindset of having to declutter my life, there was no way I was going to leave so much of my parents and their lives to others, without taking those pieces that were so meaningful to me.
Lots of tears have been shed, lots of agonizing over so many things, and full-on meltdowns over these losses have all been experienced over the past few weeks. And the photographs pose one of the toughest dilemmas. Albums upon albums filled with happy times and long-forgotten memories – what does one do with all those remnants of their – and our – lives?
We also didn’t have the luxury of time, for many reasons. So barely a month after losing Dad, my sister and I made a final trek to our parents’ home to empty out everything that had made it their home. At first, I made it through by attempting to be dispassionate – to distance myself from these “things” and not assign any emotional value to them. I actually managed to do that with some items. But then I’d get blindsided by something unexpected, and be once again reduced to a puddle of grief.
By the fourth night, it still seemed as if there were mountains of belongings to still get through and bag. My sister and two of her friends had made a trip to start emptying things out several weeks earlier, and she needed to get back home on that fourth day after being gone and working as hard as she had. The furniture was to be picked up the next morning, when I was scheduled to leave. Only half of it had been spoken for – the rest was apparently going to be trashed, which was affecting me deeply. One of my wonderful cousins was going to oversee that part of the process. And I had no one left to ask to take more bags of things to a donation bin. We had received help and generosity from so many friends and family over the past month, how could I ask again? But if I couldn’t ask for help, what would happen to everything left? I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing out things that someone else could use. A wave of helplessness and hopelessness overcame me. I sank down on the floor, completely overwhelmed. And then, I truly believe, my parents stepped in and rescued me.
The first thing was, I suddenly realized there was no way I could leave the next day – I needed one more day in order to hold onto my sanity. So I called the airline and explained my situation. Now you all know how I feel about flying and the whole airline experience. However, the woman on the other end could hear that I was at the end of my rope and she was so compassionate and kind to me, I couldn’t believe it. She told me that they still had me in the system from the bereavement fare of the previous trip, and since this was all still part of the same event, they would NOT charge me a change fee! So I got re-booked to a flight one day later.
Next, I got a call from another amazing cousin who had come earlier to help with her wonderful sister, that she was returning with her son and a truck to take any clothing I had left to the donation bin she had gone to earlier with several other bags of stuff. That was another lifting of the weight off my heart.
Finally, I walked into the living room to find several people gathered there. One woman had come for a different reason, but asked me about the furniture. I told her which pieces were spoken for, and which ones weren’t. She called her daughter who needed any furniture we had, and that night she and her husband and another friend got all of it out of there – and, they came back the next morning for the bed! So the extra furniture was going to someone who really needed it, where it would again have a good home.
It was tough enough watching everything my parents owned disappear. But the things that were going to help homeless or disadvantaged people, which went to family, or which went to friends, made me happy. Our parents were generous, kind people who also would have been happy to know that their things would now make others happy. Some of the sadness lifted.
All of the lamps were taken by family and friends before the next night, and there are few overhead lights there, so once the sun set, it was pretty dark. And empty, with all the furniture gone. With all the life gone. There were still a few things I needed to go through, to either take or throw out, and I found myself dawdling as I went through everything. I took pictures of the emptiness. I sat on the floor and communed with my parents. I cried again. And finally, I had no excuses left, not to leave. And I left a huge piece of my heart there as I shut the door behind me, and turned the key in the lock for the final time.
Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved