This past week my extended family gathered to help pack up my mom’s life in the sprawling home she built with my father some 30 years ago to move into a two-room apartment at the back of my house. Needless to say, this means things need to be let go. This wasn’t a sudden decision, so my mom has had over 6 months to start sorting into three piles: keep, give away, dump. At the beginning my mom was reluctant to let some precious items go even though she knew she wouldn’t use them because frankly she didn’t use them now. Things like a porcelain tea pot my grandma made that was shoved in the back of a cupboard for 30 years since the last move, old photo albums with unidentified pictures, my dad’s report cards from middle school. When you have space you just fill the void but moving forces a cleansing especially a move like this one. My Mom read “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter”. This book helped her a lot to let things go, she tried to pass things on to family but there are just some things nobody wants and those just had to go.
I even had a reckoning of my own in this cleaning process. When my parents moved to this past home they told we three children that they would store a foot lockers worth of items in their attic. They give us each a small trunk and at 18 looking at the precious items in my bedroom I chose the things that were sacred and special to me then. The pile of dolls pictured above is a collection from my sister and I’s trunks. I also saved a vast stack of Cricket Magazines, for some reason the stories and art in those magazines were prized to me at one time but for the life of me now I couldn’t fathom why I’d kept them for over 35 years. There were the a bean bag dolls called Larry Legs that my Grandma made and a red metal cash register. In the end I only kept the red cash register and even that I’m not sure why.
It’s interesting what we save. Some things out of inertia – it gets put on a shelf on a whim and never touched again till moving day. Other things we wrap in velvet and ribbon a put in our underwear drawer for safe keeping- love letters, old photos, wedding garments – proof of our youth and wild ways. But mostly it’s just stuff, pretty stuff, interesting stuff but in the end just stuff. One day to be put into three piles: keep, give away, dump.
I’m grateful my mom is coming to live with me. It will be a beautiful, joyous, maddening, wonderful, difficult transition. But she and I are both up to the challenge, both ready to hold on to what really matters – love of course – the rest, as we all know, is really just stuff.
It is hard for me to begin again. My dad died just over two weeks ago and I have struggled to write a blog post, since my last passionate one nothing seems as important. The ordinariness of the past two weeks feels like an insult to the intensity of the previous month. The every-day-ness is a affront to the powerful love and the concentration of feeling that went before. But likewise (and in contradiction to what I just wrote) the ordinariness is comforting. The sun sets, the sun rises and a new day begins. Work needs doing, groceries need to be bought, the car needs service, the dog whines for a walk….. The truth is my father wouldn’t have it any other way. He was a doer, a hard worker, someone who got things done. And so my work continues and this blog that he was so devoted to continues. My dad was possibly the first person to read my blog each time I sent it out, and while he rarely commented publicly he almost always sent a text or an email of encouragement and praise. That’s what is hard now – my dad was one of my biggest fans – forever cheering me on. And now he’s not there. NO, that’s not true; his legacy in my veins is made of stronger stuff than that! I hear his encouragement still in my ear, in my heart. So I guess I better get back to work.
Thanks to all of you who sent your kind words and encouragement over the past two weeks, you have buoyed my spirit and I am grateful.
This is the bed my parents put into the dream house they built together when they were in their fifties – like I am now. And this is the bed they slept in, she on the right and he on the left for twenty-eight of their sixty-one years of marriage. This is the bed my dad rose from early every morning to walk the rural road beyond their driveway. He rose from this bed for his walk every day, rain or shine, in sickness and in health to, with few excepts, walk his goal. While that goal got closer and closer to home over the years, he rose from this bed just the same even deep into his journey with the cancer. This is the bed my father lay down on each night to sleep, and dream and hold my mother close. This is the bed I joined my father in during his last week to snuggle and keep him warm while he dozed. This is the bed, on Sunday night, that my husband and I lifted him into for his last earthly sleep. This is the bed my mother curled up beside him and held his hand and stroked his cheek and hummed and sang and sang and sang. This is the bed I sat my chair beside and joined my mother’s song to comfort his journey, to settle his body, to release his soul. This is the bed my husband sat beside to join the vigil, while I spooned my mother’s tired body, as we sang until finally we just hummed. We hummed a like a mother to a restless baby, an ancient tone of comfort, in this bed we hummed my father through the threshold of this life to the next. This is the bed my mother laid beside by fathers body, his spirit released, one last time till they came to take that ravaged, tired body away. This is the bed I wept in, sliding my body into the divot my father, my daddy, left behind still warm from his last corporeal moments on this earth.
My sweet, loving, obstinate, loyal, opinionated, talented, strong, generous, complicated father – Dodd Thorpe – died in the arms of his wife, at 3:23 am, Monday September 26, 2016. May his spirit live on in us!