Almost everyone has done it or will do it in the future, clean and clear out the parental home after their passing or maybe before a move to assisted living. But even so I’m certain it’s never easy.
As I talk with others who have gone through the process they’ve described it as “opening a time capsule” to “edifying and creepy”. Indeed, it was all of that and more.
You’d think the six month delay between my father’s death and the cleanout would have made it better, but no. During the week I would invoke the words, “Oh, Daddy” time and time again, in tones of sadness, exasperation or shock as I dismembered his home and disposed of the stuff of his life.
At least the location was in Florida so the weather was warm, if not downright pleasant in the breezy shade of the garage where I along with my husband and son staged “value and/or sentiment” judgments on countless household and personal belongings.
I realized my lack of real siblings was suddenly a blessing in this case as I sifted through everything. A nephew who my father raised and adopted as his son would come the next week for things he might want, but we were on the same page. I couldn’t begin to imagine how you manage the process as a committee at odds in grief or even relief.
I hoped my son who sacrificed his spring break for the task would somehow learn more about this complicated man who shared the same Clint Eastwood cheekbones and a love of woodworking but little communication. Digging through his artifacts he discovered vintage cameras, comic books, military ribbons and other collections from days gone by, memorabilia that other more grandfatherly grandfathers might harbor in their attics too.
I saved aside some of his records for my daughter who couldn’t make the trip, Dave Brubeck and lots of Brazilian Bossa Nova like “Girl From Ipanema”, his favorite. Surprisingly swaying beats for such a by-the-book sort of guy.
We sorted more things to donate, then things for the estate sale and as I tossed bag after bag of the non-recyclable, non-reclaimable detritus of daily living into the dumpster I recalled that oft quoted wisdom of Tolstoy, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In that all homes have scores of items in common with other homes but each also has contents incredibly unique to that home.
Thirty years before I had already done a smaller cleanout, clearing a lot of of my mother’s things upon her death. But here was a trunk of letters; her voice silenced too soon, found captured in that swooping handwriting of hers, an unforeseen treasure. What else would I find?
Inside where it was a little stuffier and the scent of my dad’s sunscreen and his cat lingered (nineteen years and still ticking, she outlived him much to our amazement) I worked methodically through boxes and files and more boxes and files, and more…
(Part Two, soon)