Goodbye House

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My father is selling his house of 37 years.  The house he built with my mother that reflects their vision, design, and love. My mother’s been dead for almost a year. My father followed the advice he gave to others, as an attorney, and did not make any big changes for a year.

Compared to losing a loved one, all other changes seem superfluous. People ask me how I feel about my father selling the family home. I feel oddly detached about it.  Losing my mother was hard. Saying goodbye to a house feels easy by comparison.

It is a beautiful, unique, light-filled contemporary home. My father was always so tickled when people he met mentioned that they’ve been in our house and how nice it was. True confession time, Dad. Whenever you and mom left town and had the poor judgment to leave us home unattended, I had scores of raging parties there as a teenager and young adult. It was all part of the joy of that wonderful house. Ah, good times.

Then I grew up and appreciated the house as a home. I brought my husband to meet my parents there, celebrated many occasions together with my own children and their grandparents, gathered for holidays, and nestled in for quiet times. I went there to tell my parents I had breast cancer. My mother died in that house.

Somehow the house lost its soul when my mother left this earth. My Dad keeps up the house beautifully, but as he says himself – it’s just not the same. The house is no longer the center of the family without my mother there. It’s just a house. I’m grateful that he’s able to get it ready for sale on his own. My mother, in her infinite wisdom, had been thoughtfully distributing her things for years to her children and grandchildren so there is not an overwhelming amount of “stuff” for my father to sift through. In fact, the social worker in me thinks it’s a lovely way for him to do “life review” as he goes through the memorabilia of his 54-year married life with my mother.

It will be strange to visit my father in another home. My sister and her family will have to stay with me when they come to town to visit, which is a bonus for us. It will be very strange for her, I’m certain, to lose her home-base.

So yes, I’m okay with the selling of the house. My grief is settling into a place where I can be less sentimental and more practical. Keeping that house won’t bring my mother back. As long as my father’s ready for the next chapter, I too can move on.

Like the saying goes, home is really in the heart anyway.

 

 

 

Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother?

 

Areyoumymother

In my grief, my mind plays tricks on me. Whenever I’m out walking the dog and I notice a bird resting on a mailbox, I think that it’s looking at me.

“Mom,” I ask?

I like that fleeting moment of thinking my mother is checking on me, before the bird flies off. Do I actually believe that the bird is my mother? Not really. But I do believe her soul is floating out there somewhere, briefly inhabiting things that brought her joy and remind me of her.

Like the flowers I’ve planted outside of my kitchen window.  With a large family, I spend what sometimes feels like an eternity washing dishes in front of that window. Those flowers bring a bright spot to the monotony of the chore.

Recently I was at our neighborhood pool and I thought someone was speaking to me when they said to a person near me, “There’s your mother walking into the parking lot.”

“Really?” I thought.  My head popped up, looking and hoping with all of my heart that I would see my Mom walk into the pool.

Or the time when I had a meeting at my house and was putting out cans of Diet Coke. On the side of one of the cans, it said “MOM.”

Apparently it’s a new promotion of Coke and there were labels on other cans, such as Dad and BFF.  But I first noticed the one that said “Mom.” Could it be a sign? My mother always chided my sister about her Diet Coke consumption – she worried about the chemicals. Since I lived near my mother and therefore did not stay in her home as my sister did when she came to visit from out of town, she was unaware of my Diet Pepsi habit. My sister bore the brunt of that motherly concern. Should I not serve Diet Coke?  In my opinion, it is inferior to Diet Pepsi. Mom, what are you trying to tell me? Crazy, I know, but it made me laugh.

I often think I see her in the grocery store where we both shopped. It’s weird, the times and places that make you long for a person.

My father still lives in the home he and my mother made.  It continues to feel like her house.  Going there makes me feel close to her and very sad at the same time, as if she should be walking in the door any minute.  I think it’s both a source of comfort and sadness for my Dad.  How long will he keep the house?  Time will tell.

So I keep looking for my mother all around me…in the eyes of strangers, the beauty of nature, the hugs of friends and family, and in my children.  Mostly I guess she is within me.

Maybe someday I’ll stop looking so hard.

Me and My Dad

My Dad is one of a kind.  He is a generous, opinionated, smart, and loving man.  He expresses his feelings easily and freely.

Throughout my life he periodically asks, “Have I told you I love you today?”

Pretty great, I know.

And now he stands alone, after losing my mother to cancer six months ago.  Fortunately he is a healthy and independent seventy-seven year old.  But he is alone.  He no longer has my mother to schedule their social calendar, cook meals, beam with pride over their grandchildren.  Now when I call his house he can no longer chat with me briefly and hand the phone to my mother.  He and I are in a new place, bound together by our grief as we forge ahead without his wife and my mom.

We are lucky that we had a relationship independent of my mother so that we are not strangers.  It’s the same as before, but closer.  We check in with each other frequently.  We help each other – he does some of the driving of my kids and I frequently make dinner for him.  While he can shop and feed himself, cooking is not an interest of his.  It makes me sad to think his house will never be filled with the joyous, life-affirming smells of the kitchen. My husband and I provide a home-cooked meal, a glass of wine, and a sounding board as my dad moves forward to figure out his new reality.

He has been retired for several years.  How will he fill his time without my mother? Will he stay in the house that he and my mother built and love so much?  Will he date? Remarry? Where will he live?  These are questions he grapples with and I can only stand by and watch.  In a weird way, it’s how I feel about my 17  year-old son.  Of course they are on two different ends of the life cycle, but they both have to define who they are and figure out their own life.

I admire my father’s resilience and strength.  He is grateful for the wonderful marriage he had. And he is cognizant of the fact that he is still living, and should continue to do so as fully as possible. For now, I’m enjoying this time of having my father to myself.  If and when he is in another relationship, things will change.

My sister and I have taken to referring to him as “paterfamilias,” which he doesn’t care for but it amuses us.  “Pater” for short.  He takes seriously his role as head of the family.  He is a caring father, grandfather, uncle, brother-in-law, and cousin.  My mother’s way of doing things are ingrained in him, as they are in me.  He knows just what to take to someone’s house as a hostess gift.  He is thoughtful and caring, but even more so as he channels my mother’s special brand of kindness and thoughtfulness.  He remembers birthdays and goes out of his way to write meaningful cards.  He is very aware that he is the last parent standing and wants to ensure that his legacy is as rich as my mother’s.  He wants to make sure he too will have a lasting impact on his family.

I think of my Dad all the time and feel responsible for his well-being.

“Is it a burden?” a friend asked.

Not at all. I am grateful that we live near each other and can share the joys and sorrows of daily life with one another. It would be much harder to think of him alone if I did not live nearby. We have good boundaries and separate lives, though they often overlap.  I recently invited him over one Saturday evening but he declined, saying he wanted to be with adults.  Gee, I thought 50 year old me was an adult…but I knew what he meant.  He wants to hang around with peers, not people my age all the time.  He enriches my life, and the life of my family.

So who will my father become, after being Rita’s husband for 54 years?  Someone equally as wonderful.  Just a little different.

 

Death of a Mother

I never gave any thought to being in the Dead Mother’s Club.  I know it is universal but you don’t think about it until you’re in it.  Of course I know many people who have lost a mother, prior to losing my own.  They seem like normal people – walking around, talking, functioning, enjoying life.  Who knew they walk around with a hole in their heart?  Sometimes a hole from all the love that is missing.  And some have a hole from the love they never received from their mother and never will.

I have been in many “clubs” in my adult life.  I have made many friends who have children with special needs, like myself.  I connect with other women who have had breast cancer.  I’ve been a runner, practiced yoga, swam, read books.  I have been a happy participant in most of these groups (as happy as one can be with a disabled child and breast cancer).  I have never worn one particular “membership” as my primary identity or badge of honor.  I have accepted these roles in my life and try to pay it forward by helping others.  They all contribute to the gestalt of me.

But this time it seems more deeply personal.  And more comforting to talk with people who had a “good” mother and experienced a similar loss.  One woman told me that 15 years after her mother’s death she still feels the urge to introduce herself: “Hi, I’m Judy, my mom died.”  She told me that my Mom will “settle in with me” after a time, and guide me as I continue on with my life. Another friend said she hates the term “lost my mother.”  Thinking of her mother as “lost” is disconcerting; she died.

Dads are equally as important as Moms, but different.  And everyone has different, unique relationships with each parent.  Somehow speaking with people who have lost a Dad is not the same as talking to a woman who has lost their Mom.  These people still know loss; it’s just different.

My sister and I recently cleaned out my Mom’s closets.  I am more sentimental than my sister so we were a good team.  She helped me to let go of things that would just clutter up my closets.  I was a task master, keeping us focused so we could complete the job in the one day my sister was in town.  Neither one of us are particularly into shopping or clothes.

She said, “I hate shopping.  And I hate shopping in Mom’s closets.”

Mom had a Kleenex in every single pair of pants she owned.  It made us chuckle.  And she labeled a necklace in her jewelry box “for Naomi’s sweet 16.”  My daughter is only 10, but my Mom was thinking about gifting her as she had her older granddaughters.  It made me cry.

I made my sister take a purse, some jewelry, some shoes, scarves, etc.  She was particularly drawn to Mom’s comfy clothes, that we really never saw her wear – sweat pants, a cardigan sweater.  We laughed, knowing that Mother would find this amusing.

That task is done.  We have things that were Mom’s that are meaningful to us; myself more than my sister.  My husband finds it a bit curious, since he teases me for being unsentimental most of the time, constantly cleaning out our house and giving things away.

“You can’t take it with you when you go,” I always say.  Also,

“I’m pretty sure our son’s wives won’t want a  box of their preschool scribblings.”

Contrary to what my husband thinks, I am sentimental, and having things of my Mom’s makes me feel her presence more strongly.

I have taken to cooking and entertaining again, something my mother and I shared in common.  I find it therapeutic to bustle around in the kitchen, sauteing onions and garlic, trying new recipes.  It makes me think of my Mom, who was a wonderful hostess.  She created a warm environment, where people felt enveloped in her home and appreciated for what they “brought to the table,”  She had a knack for creating delicious meals and presenting them with great style – good taste all around.

My father and I are muddling through, helping each other deal with our loss.  I am his “rock;” he is my surviving parent.  I always include him in whatever my family is doing, to help him fill his days and ease his loneliness.  And my family and I benefit from his wisdom, presence and love.  He has his friends, old and new.  He goes to coffee, dinner and the movies. It is strange to see my Dad as a vulnerable man, available on the dating market.  He is figuring out how to be in the world without his beloved spouse of 54 years.   I love my Dad and know that he adored my mother.  I trust that he will find a way to live a different, happy life.  It is an adjustment for all of us.

Mother is gone. Thank God I have my father, husband, sister, children and friends.  I’m slowly finding my equilibrium.

God Giveth and God Taketh Away

Let me start by saying that my Dad is a great guy.  He was a loving and devoted husband to my mother for 54  years.  He was a dedicated, caring, and very competent caregiver when she was ill.  And he misses my mother very much.  It’s interesting to me how the loss of a person changes relationships, and how people grieve differently.

In my previous life, I was a social worker who worked in a cancer center.  I understand the grieving process and that grief takes many forms.  My Dad and I have a close, loving relationship.  I am the child who lives closest to my parents, so we are an integral part of each other’s lives.  But mothers and fathers have different roles in their children’s lives.  I said to my Dad, “You’re great Dad, but you’re not Mom.”  “I know,” he replied.  Just like I’m a wonderful daughter, but I’m not his wife.  The nature of our relationship will change, while it continues to shift.  I now will be focused on him, without trying to smother him with my attention.  “I don’t need taking care of,” he told me.  I assured him that I respect his autonomy and independence.  But I still drove by his house recently when I hadn’t spoken with him one day, to make sure the paper had been taken in – he was alive, I surmised.  We will find a balance of communication and space.  As an adult child, I feel more vulnerable to have my Mom gone and feel the need to make sure my Dad stays around for as long as possible.  Otherwise, what is there between me and my mortality?

 My father is on a 2 week trip to Israel, where my parents have a second home.  I spoke with him the other day and got choked up and teary when talking about my Mom.  “We need to keep living,” he told me.  “I know,” I squeaked out (although I wasn’t contemplating NOT living – I was just expressing sadness.)  “God giveth and God taketh away,” he tried next.  Really, Pop?  He clearly could not tolerate my tears and sadness, as he tries not to grieve that way.  He grieves by making lists of things to do, and keeping very busy.  Of course he does – he’s a man and he lives alone.  I am a woman with a bunch of people who share my house and need tending to.  I have built-in distractions.  We quickly ended our conversation as my grief was too much for him.  Fortunately, I have many other people to share my sadness with – I called my sister.

I know my Dad thinks of my Mom every moment of every day and grieves in his own way – which is perfectly fine for him.  And I’m okay with it too.  We’ll help each other the best we can.

 It’s new territory for both of us.