So, house, we love thee, as we could not love
A palace wherein no pulse of love had struck,
Where farewells had not been—and where
No busy memories haunt the vacant rooms.
~J.J. Britton (1832–1913), "A Home"
I'm nearing the end of this summer's journey of clearing out my parents' home.
My childhood home.
What began as a heavy weight upon my heart turned into a mission of love. I admit that when I began this project I was irritated they my parents hadn't taken me up on my many offers to help them sort through closets and boxes.
I vowed I wouldn't leave a task like this for my kids.
But it turned out to be a cathartic experience, after all... the sorting, the remembering (thanks to my sister!) ... it all awakened a flood of happy memories centered in that simple house.
Plus, I felt I was repaying my parents, doing something for them that they couldn't do for themselves. It had usually been the other way around.
Although, it turns out Daddy had been doing a little sorting. The attic, a place I had feared all of my life and dreaded peering into during this process, turned out to be totally empty.
Thank you, Daddy!
Now I'm not so worried about leaving a project like this for my kids. (Sorry, kids! Blame your grandparents!)
But don't worry... I definitely plan to weed through and toss (I have way more stuff than my parents!) but I can see how the process can be a healing one.
As a good parent, how can I begrudge my children a healing experience?
My kids were awesome, though, all three coming with me when they could, and even TG's boyfriend one Saturday, cleaning and sorting, and helping to carry furniture. Daniel is the one who actually braved the attic and saw that the coast was clear. Whew!
And Tom is the one who truly helped lift the weight off my heart and helped me begin to move forward; he whirled from room to room like the Tasmanian Devil, cleaning out pantries and drawers, making more progress in one day than I had in a week's worth of Saturdays.
None of us looked forward to the four-hour drive there and back every Saturday this summer, much less the three to four hours spent there sweating in an un-air-conditioned home in the Houston suburbs, in the hottest part of the day, in the hottest part of a Texas summer.
It was exhausting.
But my parents were extraordinary in so many ways, and again, I'm grateful we could do this for them. I'm glad their last days in the house were spent as if they would go on there forever, not spent sorting and preparing for the day they would no longer be there.
It helped that most of the large pieces of furniture went to friends... or friends of friends. Who became new friends.
I took photos as we said goodbye, which in some weird way helped me let go.
I've already written about my grandmother's piano...
Daddy's chair went to a young dad-to-be. I think Daddy would like it that it would be used to rock a baby. He loved babies.
The kitchen table was another tough one. So many holiday meals, school projects, and breakfasts by Daddy with my kids.
So many hours reading Tarzan or Nancy Drew, and so many gallons of coffee consumed while just talking, talking, talking...
Oh, the stories that table could tell!
But... I didn't need the table. Honestly, it was stained with so much newspaper ink I knew it would need a good refinishing, and the last thing I needed was another project.
I'm satisfied to have my memories and hundreds of photos of holiday meals, breakfasts with Daddy, and birthday celebrations around it.
So I said goodbye.
It's going to a new friend's mom's house, where I hope it will be the center of many happy memories-in-the-making.
But to answer my own question: "How do you hug a house?"
One way is to turn an estate sale into a celebration, where friends buy your furniture, keep you company, and bring wine to toast the awesomeness of growing up in a home that overflowed with love, where the good memories overpowered the bad ones by far.
Thank you, Rae, for making sure we celebrated instead of mourned. And thank you to all of the other friends who bought furniture, helped with the estate sale, or just stopped by to say hello on one of those Saturdays. It truly carried us through this.
If you're faced with this journey, my advice to you is to embrace it. See it as the mission of love that it is, a last gift to your parents. Dive into the memories and embrace them, the good and the bad, because they are what made you distinctly you.
Don't be afraid to hang on to too many photos or knick knacks. If there's any hesitation whether to keep it or toss it, just keep it. You can toss it later. It doesn't matter when you do it. It can be a process.
But also realize that goodbyes are okay. Those objects did their job. They were part of your parents' lives - or your grandparents' lives or your brother's life, as in my case. They already served a purpose or brought joy.
They don't necessarily have to be a part of your life.
But I'm grateful for the memories I have, and the ones my sister can share with me, since she's older. I'm also so grateful I had her right beside me on this journey.
And I'm extremely grateful for all of the photographs I've inherited, along with the ones I've taken. They will keep that sweet old house alive even after we say our final goodbye.
You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.