I recently returned from having spent a week emptying my mother’s house. It was the house I lived in from 10 years old, until I spread my wings and left the nest in my 20’s. The memories in that house are a mix of good and bad, happy and sad.
The job at hand was pushed into overdrive because neither of my brothers, nor I, live within 3000 miles of the house. And we wanted to get the house emptied and on the market for the spring/ summer real estate season. We began the process the week before Mom’s funeral, back in mid February. More recently, my younger brother has been able to take 3 weeks to be at the house. I was able to be with him for one week. It’s been a triage job: what are we keeping, what can be sold, what will be donated, and what is trash.
Back in February, going through things, I’d occasionally hit a land mine and would break down into a puddle of tears. But, this last week that I was there, it was pretty easy to go through the house. There were a few things that I held enough sentimental attachment to, that they are in boxes, on their way to my home: the wind chime that was in the dining room, a vase with fish on it that I bought in Japan and gave to Mom, a mug that was given to Mom by the all-girls college she went to, on the occasion of the birth of her daughter (me), and a few other items. But I was able to let go of a lot. There is very little that mom had specifically told me would be mine upon her death.
As my younger brother and I went through things, what was once a family room just inside the side door, became our staging area. The sofa that was ravaged by the family cats, was in the garage. Sitting chairs are gone- shipped off to our brother. Bags and bags and even more bags have been taken to the local Salvation Army, with more to go. Boxes of family photo albums to be stored in our family’s summer cottage, for all of us to enjoy forever, await transport. Items that had stories attached to them, ascribing great value, I learned were not actually valuable; and were donated. A few things were sold. But the bulk of what was in that house for almost 40 years, has been donated to a few different thrift stores, a food bank, and more.
Mom had been a professional musician for her entire adult life. During that time, she accumulated a large library of music and books about composers. With the help of some of her musician friends, Mom’s music and books will find their way into the hands of young musicians, where they will be well used. Even in death, the music will live on. I found some spare parts for Mom’s violins and viola: bridges, chin rests, shoulder rests, strings. These have been donated to a man who repairs instruments, to be used when he has a client who can’t afford a new part for their instrument. Mom would be pleased.
I am finding that the joy of someone receiving free music, or a free shoulder rest for their violin, receiving free food, or finding that treasure in the thrift store, has no limit to its value. Sure, someone could have taken every single item out of that house and could have found a way to put a price tag on it. But I am finding a much better energy exchange in donating much of it. Many people will be happy.
With one week left until my younger brother has to leave Mom’s house, he is doing amazingly well moving along, getting the house empty. Just last night I received the text, “Attic empty.” Mattresses are gone. Ping pong table is gone. Much of the basement is empty. The band saw sold. Wheel chair ramp is going today. Items to be auctioned are gone. Hazardous waste gone. Snow blower gone. I am more than proud of, and very impressed with my brother. He is getting it done.
For me, it’s weird. Because I do not live anywhere near the house, I most likely will not ever see it again. When I left it, just days ago, the picture in my mind of the distinct lack of furniture, things in disarray, empty rooms, partially emptied rooms, and boxes and bags filled with stuff, will be the last image I’ll have of the house I grew up in.
I am realizing that the difference between a house and a home is the life that is there. Without my parents, their cats, and visitors, the house it just that. A house. Soon to be ready for another family to make it their home. The end of one family’s story there, and soon, the beginning of another’s.