I've recently crossed that threshold: moving Mom to an assisted living facility. Selling her house. Packing it up. The disbursement of what remains.
I did not have to go it alone; I have one great brother who is always there. And thankfully, this was not happening under the sadness of a recent loss. Dad died five years ago. Mom now requires skilled nursing and 24/7 care. We got her settled in her new place, then went back to face all that was left.
We were crazy enough to think that we could pack up the whole house in three days. Even more insane, we planned a garage sale to clear the house of its smaller stuff. The sheer scope of this work was overwhelming; but we kept telling each other we could do it. It won't be that bad.
I acknowledged a hefty dose of sadness as I boarded my flight to Florida. It was bigger than me and bubbling under the surface. Unwilling to face this, I shoved my feelings down and for good measure, numbed it all with a gin and tonic. I'm just closing a chapter that's all, I told myself.
I arrived at my parents home the night before my brother with the intention of getting everything ready and figuring out a game plan. I opened the door, set down my luggage and took a deep breath to steel myself as I began walking around the house to assess how many boxes we might need.
I got as far as the kitchen before the tears started to drop. A silent slideshow played in my mind: the phone call I took in the guest bedroom from our adoption lawyer Lisa Collins, telling me "there's a baby," Bella meeting my parents for the first time at three months old, one of my favorite pictures of her plump pink self floating on a raft, my Dad doing his exercises in the pool singing the standards quietly to himself, the dinners at our favorite restaurant on Sanibel Island, those times when the entire family was all here, Mom doing her crossword puzzles at the kitchen table, Bella feeding the ducks on the lake, and watching Sunday Morning on CBS with my Dad.
I found myself in the family room. Those tables -- my God how long had they had those tables? I flashed back to cleaning them for my allowance when I was twelve. The contemporary white lucite and glass and chrome was considered modern back then. I laughed out loud when I realized they have actually been around long enough to be back in style again.
I went through the living room where I used to love to sit and work during our visits there. I pushed open all of the sliding glass doors, pausing to stare at the view of the pool and lake; and I smiled when I remembered that as soon as you would sit in this room, mom would not-so-subtly make a trip past you to make sure you had placed a coaster under your drink to protect the marble table tops.
In my father's office I open and close desk drawers mindlessly, touching every tool and instrument I find. This is the desk and chair that was in his first medical practice where I would sit on Saturday's at age eight while he tended to patients, pretending to be his nurse and busying myself by playing with a typewriter.
In the master bedroom is the set I had helped my parents find -- oh how they loved that furniture -- big, substantial and one of a kind. ("You take that, Kerrie Lynn, Dad and I both wanted you to have it.") I pause at the french doors that I can never look at anymore without seeing a ghost of my father's hospice bed; the doors opened to the pool. We had chosen that spot for the breeze and the view.
It washed over me then: the whole spectrum of life was lived here. Deliriously happy and tragically sad and everything in between. All these emotions triggered by an empty house and the furniture that was left behind. No, this was not a chapter at all, but a book. About a lifetime and a family. Days and routines and traditions that were over and would not, could not ever return.
A friend said to me before I left, "The past is meeting the present. This is a time to celebrate all stages of life. Consider each moment sacred. Even the painful ones." I clung to those words as we started packing. It was laborious. Each and every item considered: "This obviously was special to them, they took such great care... Oh! I remember this came out every Christmas... Can we really put a $1 price tag on this and offer it up in a garage sale?"
Overwhelmed, I went outside to smell the salt air, looking up for the mockingbird that sang to Dad while he was in the pool. I scanned the lake hoping for one last glimpse of the sea lions I had only seen once in 12 years -- on the day my father died. And I thought, this is what's left at the end of a life. Physical remains and invisible remains. And the adult child simultaneously holding on and letting go.
Does someone you know need these words today?
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