Aging Parents: LETTING GO and the CIRCLE OF LIFE–Parents’ Death and Selling the Family Home

Dad and My Childhood best friend

Dad and my childhood best friend after Mom died

Dad died almost 11 years ago. We held onto the family home we grew up in so there would be continuity for my, at-the-time, very young niece. I was certain the home represented needed security and stability for her. I was also  trying my best to soften the loss of “Grandpa,” with whom she spent a great deal of time– often sitting on his lap in his blue recliner.

She was at the house most of the week after he died. When she asked why Grandpa died, I said something to the effect that God wanted Grandpa. An age-appropriate response, right? That 3-year-old memory, I realized, was much better than that of older people who would no doubt have forgotten that conversation. Her request of me several months later: “Would you please call God and ask him to send Grandpa back?”
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Memories came back in waves as Dad’s recliner, Mother’s china and various furnishings left our home thanks to the estate sale. Interestingly, they weren’t poignant nor did they engender sadness.

Picnic by the ocean: Mother (79) and me

Picnic by the ocean: Mother (79) and me

I have been asked often during the last week if I felt sad cleaning out the home. My answer: “No.”  Interestingly that was my brother’s answer also. Reminders of past moments and the people who were part of them take me back so many decades. Yet as a far-away-living child I knew my parents’ death was always a possibility and tried to make certain, as they aged, that there would be no unfinished business nor unspoken words as each visit ended.

I also think, as does my brother, that our home deserves a young family with kids–to slide down the banister and discover our hiding places in the big basement. And so I, a sentimental person, have done a pretty good job of letting go–I think.

Moving on happens. It’s difficult to control. Life in my parents’ home is coming full circle.

Family Photos

Family Photos

It will house a new family and children again. And my parents’ last gift to me is this mountain of stuff that–in the going through and reading–has helped make sense of much of my past…and our family’s past.

If your parents should leave you boxes and drawers to clean out, try to muster up the patience (most in my family can’t) to see this is an opportunity to fill in gaps and answer questions. You get to relive your parents as younger, healthy and strong. The illnesses and the caregiving recede. For me, it has provided closure; has made letting go easier; has been priceless.

Aging Parents: My Parents’ Home–The Long Farewell

NO GIRLS ALLOWED sign in front of boy's clubhouse--decades before Woman's Lib.Would you guess the young girl is now a well-recognized low vision specialist?

NO GIRLS ALLOWED sign in front of boy’s clubhouse–decades before Woman’s Lib.
The young girl is now a well-recognized low vision specialist.

How many of us have had the bittersweet experience of being back on the street where we lived, in the bedroom of our growing up, years after our parents have died?

Our street was a micro world–kids about the same age who, when very young, built summer huts of tall weeds on a vacant lot near the end of the street. Before adolescence our early “architecture” morphed into the boys’-built clubhouse in a neighbor’s back yard. It had the requisite “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” sign.

Time passes, people pass. Our old home is no longer an Ozzie-and-Harriet kind of home and the neighborhood is no longer filled with the high-pitched voices of the neighborhood kids.

We readjust and move forward with–hopefully– the strength gained and wisdom learned from navigating in our micro world. It was our world until we all left for college.

Amazingly in today’s world of rapid change, the houses remain with few changes. Only the inhabitants have changed.

And instead of our street being flooded with kids and dogs, construction vehicles have taken over. A new home is being built across from ours–on the “playground,” an empty, grass-covered lot connected to my first best friend’s home. We kids spent a lot of time there–first on swings and teeter-totters, then playing ball, alway hanging out. Times change. Developers don’t. The construction signals time to sell. Time for a new family. New expectations, new dreams.

As I contemplate readying our family home to be sold, which involves emptying out 6+ decades of memories in addition to the tangible belongings, we’ve had more years than most to cut the umbillical cord. It’s time to let go of the house that provided us security for so many decades–a house that was home…for many years more than one has the right to expect.

A childhood friend of my brother’s, growing up with us on our street but now living in Florida, said on the phone recently: “Visiting your home was like a time warp… still the same inside. I’ve loved being able to come back over the years and experience that.”

So have I.

THE BOYS’ CLUBHOUSE