For quite a few days this week I've been immersed in the past. My past, my family's past. It is a different place alright, from the real "now" I'm living in, where everything has changed.
Mum and Dad died within one year of each other, and the house has been sold. And it has fallen to me to clear out all the possessions that had remained after a lifetime.
It's not an easy job, and it's even harder if you're doing it on your own. But I chose to do it. I feel the need to pay respect to the past. I wonder if that sense of self-sacrificial duty is because I was the only daughter. The gender thing seems more than a coincidence...
So - faced with a new undertaking, and this being 2009, I Googled "clearing out the family home" and found that there were a lot of people who knew how I felt.
That it was not just a question of sorting things into:
(1) what to keep
(2) what to dump
(3) what to sell
(4) what to give away
It was also often enough the shocking struggle with the fact that family dynamics have changed and nothing will ever be the same.
And the process goes on - I must get around to their house again soon and pack one more load of stuff, for various destinations (blankets to the Red Cross, disability aids back to the Hospital, books to the Regent book sale, etc).
And choose what is rubbish.
It would be hard enough clearing out a house but of course the load of memory, nostalgia and grief makes this chore one of the hardest I think I've ever had to do so far. Am I'm not young.
But of course if you have happy memories - and thankfully I do - then there is also joy and the surprise of remembering long-forgotten but familiar things.
Probably the nicest surprise was finding the painting of my Dad done many years ago for a play he appeared in. Dad had stashed it away behind something in his garden shed and it's dusty and grubby and damp, and disintegrating around the edges. It was never a serious portrait anyway, and I don't even recall who painted it.
Inside the house, was a supposedly fine portrait if him that had been commissioned, that to those of us who knew him well, didn't look like him at all.
You know that strange feeling of looking at a portrait and seeing that it is a physical likeness in a technical sense, but it just doesn't LOOK like the person? The formal portrait of Dad is like that, and it is one of the problems I've had this week - what to do with it. None of us like it, and it doesn't look like Dad. But I can hardly dump it - or can I? (There's also a similarly 'wrong' painting of Mum that presents the same problem.)
The tongue-in-cheek painting of Dad as a Roman, roughly done and unfinished, on the other hand, is an extremely good likeness of the man he was, and it is something I'm going to treasure as long as it holds together.
Seekers of gold
1 day ago