As long as Mom’s house was on the market, there was a semblance of continuity. It was still “her” house. While we wanted it to sell, until it did we had a reprieve. We didn’t have to deal with the contents. We didn’t have to face handling every single item in the house and determine its disposition.
Everyone knows about the stages of grief. This was about the stages of letting go. First there was the funeral. Formal, a fitting tribute, and surrounded by friends. It came so soon after death that a feeling of numbness was inevitable. Next came the task of dividing Mom’s treasures. Mom and Dad’s, really. Deciding who wanted what was congenial and healing and we knew they would be pleased that family heirlooms were staying in the family. And then the final task, clearing out the house. Sure, we had made decisions about the big pieces of furniture and major possessions but that left a lot of, well, stuff yet to be dealt with.
It was daunting. Mom and Dad were married for 51 years, and Mom lived another 17 years after Dad’s death. That’s a long time in which to accumulate things. Opening boxes, pulling out drawers, unearthing trunks, scanning shelves and peering in cupboards all revealed bits and pieces of the lives that Mom and Dad led.
It was a good reminder of who they were and what they did. It wasn’t about the later stages when heart disease and Alzheimers robbed them of their former vigor and wit. It was about the active and social lives they led. We found their classic old Schwann bicycles in the garage, which were brought to life when we unearthed a photo of them on the bikes at Canal Park. Seeing their wooden cross country skis brought back memories of family ski trips. By their later years they would ply the trails while we zoomed down the slopes. Mom’s golf clubs were a testament to all the years they spent on the golf course, and the many friendships they made in the process. The old canvas tent – I only remembers using it once. Camping wasn’t Mom’s thing. All the silver, china and crystal? A living memorial to the active and full social lives they led. Mom set a gracious table, and they entertained in style. Those pieces weren’t for show, they were used regularly. The bookshelves full of volumes of classics mixed in with modern fiction were evidence of Mom and Dad’s continuing pursuit of knowledge and active minds.
We absorbed as much as we could into our own homes. For the rest, we tried our best to find good homes for the many possessions. We preferred to gift them than sell. It just felt right.
It was a lot of work, but once we committed to the task we surprised ourselves by how quickly we finished. It felt odd, seeing the house empty, no longer filled with familiar things. No longer Mom and Dad’s home. The dining room table where we gathered so often was missing. The books on the shelves we’d peruse and borrow were gone. The bed we surrounded when Mom was slipping away from us was absent. It was just empty rooms.
We’d emptied the house of two lifetimes. Two beloved parents. Two people devoted to each other. They will live on in our memories. We don’t need a house full of possessions to preserve that love.