Our family has spent the last week cleaning out Dad’s house so that we can sell it. He’ll never be able to move back there. His dementia has settled that issue. He must have 24/7 care. We are unable to provide that care for him. So, he will spend the remainder of his sojourn here in a skilled facility.
We have tried to be careful. So much stuff! So many memories! We have excavated through the layers, each one revealing a sight, a sound, a smell retrieved from the deep recesses of our memories. Laughter and tears originating decades ago rush back and live again in our minds. We found special papers. Baptism certificates for Mom and Dad. Their marriage license and original typed Last Will and Testament. There were the adoption papers for my brother and me. Our own “Ancestry.Com” in a small accordion shaped box. My mother’s jewelry had to be sorted. And, still, almost three years after her passing, we found a cabinet full of her old medications. There were shoes and boots, scarves and other clothing that belonged to her. Dad never could say goodbye. He allowed her ghost to live with him; comforting him.
As their lives piled up in the living room awaiting relocation, I began to wonder how more than 8 decades of life could be reduced to this. I remember being 4 years old and ‘helping’ dad build a fence around our backyard. We would walk to the lake where he taught me to fish and skip stones. Mom would make the world’s best cinnamon rolls. They were small; small enough for my preschooler size fingers to hold onto. Through many years we experienced joy and sorrow. Yet, they gave my brother and me a good life. We have so much to be grateful for. And, now…I gaze on what’s left. I never expected a huge legacy from them. Dad always told me that he made a lot of money, and he spent a lot of money. He lived by that old adage, “you can’t take it with you.”
Yet, that doesn’t make standing over these leftovers from their lives any easier for me. I don’t know. Maybe, it’s because Dad is still with us. I have a recurring fear that he will suddenly become lucid and want to go home. “Uh, Dad…I’ve got some bad news…” But, that will not happen. Besides, he is happy in his new home with his other ‘roommates.’
I guess I shouldn’t feel too badly. After all, this is how they would want us to handle their things. We have to inspect every knick-knack. All of the papers and clutter from Dad’s desk need to be opened and read. We will touch, see, and smell the lives of these two people over and over again. We will laugh, like when my wife found a box of Viagra. And, we will cry as we feel the weight of the years pressing down on us. The dishes that my grandmother passed on to my mom have found yet another temporary home with us. Eventually, they will move along to another generation. Mom and Dad will live on in us, our children, and their children. The thread drawn from the spool, pulled ever forward.