(read Part One here)
The first day was the hardest. My dad and I stood in the living room, seeing it all with new eyes. It was incredible how we had ever ignored this mess. The volume of chaos loomed in every direction, tangles of sentiment and necessities and utter nonsense, unfathomable for the blurred boundaries… I couldn’t fix on where to start, how to make sense of it. How had it come to this? How could it be changeable when it had been here for so long? Where would I put things when the space was so full?
I love my dad, completely and sincerely and all my life, but the truth is I’ve always had a hard time connecting with him. Funny, that: loving someone so much in the mist of unspoken subtleties and small talk, never quite being comfortable enough to let the important words flow; being afraid of the emotions that might bubble up or of disrupting their place on the pedestal you’ve put them on, feeling so disconnected and helpless to change it. The tangle of sentiment and necessities and nonsense. But time is slipping away so quickly, I see that now.
We started small. I straightened bookshelves and boxed up her sewing. We talked about Mom and cried and apologized for crying. We walked through the house and surveyed the work that lay ahead, wondered how she could’ve seen this as not enough, and made plans to sort for donations and yard sales and garbage and recycling and keepsakes and records… We talked about how difficult it had been to sort the estates of his mom and eldest brother who he had lost over the two years before my mom died. He told me he wants to prepare for his own death to spare us that. We looked at each other, and I nodded, choked on the bitter truth of it but felt grateful for his generosity. Death is cruel and we must welcome it, offer it a clean home and tea and a part in our conversations.
It was an increment of progress, a barely noticeable change that only underlined how immense this effort was going to be. But still, it was like peeking through a hole in a wall to a secret garden; there was anguish in glimpsing an as yet unreachable world, but the hope on the other side was enough to make going on feel vital.
The next time I came over we hung the pictures that had been stacked on the table and leaned against the hallway walls: Mom holding her first grandchild, Dad’s parents during the war, a portrait of my grandma… He had rearranged the living room a bit and decorated for Christmas; her chair finally shifted from the position it had held for so many years. We talked about happy times and holidays, and cried with a little less shame. I pulled open the blinds for the first time in ages and cleared some cobwebs from the window. The sun felt good in the room. We were moving forward, however gently.
(click here for Part Three)