As I write this, I'm in San Jose, in the backyard of the house I grew up in. My parents' house, my family home, most recently just my dad's house, and now, the house that belongs to my sisters and me. My father passed away in June of this year, after living here alone for the last 26 years. Mom passed in 1990, leaving us all, but mostly Daddy, to wonder how in the world we could ever be normal again.
He never quite recovered from losing the love of his life, but staying in his beloved home, his mansion, he called it, meant more to him than anything else in the world he might have wished for. We were somehow miraculously able to grant him the only thing he ever asked us for. He got to live to the very tippy-tail end of his life in his own house. My sisters and I, just the three of us and nobody else, were here with him when he left us. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, and maybe the most honorable. I wouldn't recommend it, but I'm so grateful we were able to be here for him.
After a month at home to catch our breath, trying not to deal with any more than we absolutely had to, we're back now, sorting through our family-specific mountain of things that accumulate in a house over 54 years. We've emptied every drawer, every closet, every box, every cabinet, every shelf. We've touched thousands of pieces of paper and countless assembled objects, housewares, and photographs. We've claimed what we want to keep, and given our kids and a few family members mementos and heirlooms. Next on the list is an estate sale, for the furniture and daunting pile of things that will all be treasures to someone who hasn't found them yet.
The paper sorting was torturous for me, and the gear and tools didn't interest me much. My father interested me greatly, but his things were man things. Our husbands and sons happily went through every bit of all that, while I wandered off to the kitchen. Mom's kitchen, where I first learned to cook, and where she worked her magic to the delight of anyone lucky enough to be invited to our table. Over the years, we began referring to the house as Dad's, but it will always be Mom's kitchen.
This time though, I wasn't there to cook, but to clean and sort and discard. It was kind of terrible, and kind of fun. It was whatever I wanted to decide it was, and I flip-flopped back and forth a lot until I decided to just quiet my head and enjoy the process. Very little had been brought in since Mom passed, and very little had been tossed out.
My little stack of take-homes is still growing. I keep plucking things from the sale pile and smuggling them down the hall to my room. The little copper bottomed Revereware saucepan needs me. The banged up mixing bowls are dimpled like steel drums, and are so much heavier than any I've had in my own adult life. I actually spoke to the white and pink (once red) Pyrex casserole dish, saying, I've known you my whole life. You're coming home with me. And the gently stained 1970's aprons, in my opinion, are simply not give-up-able.
The sorting continues, things leave for their new homes, papers are shredded, trash is tossed, and memories bubble to the surface like a lake full of champagne. I'm not the first one to go through this, but for me this is new territory. Dad was a hiker, an outdoorsman, a reader of maps, a carrier of a good compass, both in his heart and in his pocket. He guided us through life in his strong and certain way. But he couldn't leave trail markers to help us with what we're doing now.
Every so often, one of my sisters or I will notice what feels absolutely like a message from our parents. We all feel them both sticking near us right now, as we tidy up for them this one last time. I like to think we're doing all this in a way they're happy with. On the other hand, they might be off romping around Eternity, caring not a hoot about their earthly goods. Either way is OK with me. And I know we're doing the best we can on an unmarked trail.