“What was the hardest thing to handle in your life and how did you get thru it? Pretty soon you will regret asking me the question! LOL”
As per my request, I am receiving questions from you, my readers. Today’s blog subject comes to you via this question from a magical, extremely and lovingly persistent, encouraging, positive and sometimes irritatingly supportive (très pushy), and very dear friend of mine, Linda, who I’ve dubbed “My biggest cheerleader.” But, I love her and wouldn’t change a thing about her!! Well, except maybe her address. It’d be nice if we lived closer together. While this was not her first question, it is the one that lit up my keyboard today.
I’ll never regret asking you questions, Linda! The answer to this one is easy: Selling my childhood home. The house my parents lived in for 52 years. The house that was built in 1949, the year they were married. The only childhood home I remember, where we moved when I was four years old.
In 1987, I moved to Kentucky, 2 hours, and 15 minutes from my parents’ home. Since then, I made that 280-mile roundtrip drive more times than I could possibly count. The frequency of my visits increased over the years as my parents aged, of course. For every serious illness, every surgery, I would put my life on hold to take care of them, or stay in the hospital by their side, whatever they needed. I missed quite a bit of work over the years, and I would do it all again. I vowed never to put my parents in a home, and I kept that promise. I can be proud of that. It gives me some peace.
My mother died in October 2013 due to Parkinson’s complications, and my father died in June 2017 of interstitial lung disease. None of us expected Dad to last very long without his lovely bride. “Maybe six months” is what I predicted. He amazed us all and lasted 3 years and 8 months.
For six months after my father died, I continued to pay his bundled cable, internet, and telephone bill. It was silly, wasteful, and illogical. Every time I thought of discontinuing it, I felt like I was taking his entertainment and livelihood away from him, and that anguish was palpable and halting. It was almost a year later that I actually started working on cleaning out the house. Before that, I would drive up periodically just to check on it. I’d unlock the door that opens from the garage to the kitchen, step inside and smell that familiar smell of their home. Everything was so quiet. No news on the TV. No piano playing in the basement. Dad wasn’t in “the little room,” reading his email or listening to ragtime music with Kokie Poo, (Mom’s African Grey parrot), perched on the folding chair beside him. I’d always go right to my parents’ bedroom, open the door and look all around the room, which remained as Dad left it. I’d look at his dresser and the pictures on the wall. The bed where I used to kiss my parents good night during my visits years ago. Where I would tuck Dad in when he was all alone and finally stopped sleeping in the living room recliner. My chest would feel very heavy, and then I’d close the door and walk away. I simply could not disturb anything, not even the dust collecting on the furniture.
Everything happens for a reason. I’ve always believed that, but others do not. I mean it in the sense that every event in our lives is a stepping stone to the next event in our lives. Surely the non-believers can get on board with that description. The time to seriously work on cleaning out the house came when my niece’s home sold at an unprecedented speed. I was not ready. At all. Although I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, my brain told me it could take months or even years for their house to sell. Everything happens for a reason, remember. Having had some time to reflect on it, I would likely still be working on trying to start clearing out that house today if their home hadn’t sold so quickly. In the big scheme of things, the bandaid was ripped off, and I was left with nothing else to do but tend to the wound, get the job I was enlisted to perform done, and move on. My parents’ house was also saved from devastation. Every time I’d gone up to check on it, something else was broken or falling apart. The paneling was coming loose from the wall upstairs. The garage door was decaying, pieces on the garage floor. The house was experiencing some grieving of its own and needed a family to love it back to life again. I’m thankful to my niece and her family for doing just that. I wish I could have done a more thorough job of gutting the house for her, but at the time, what I did was my absolute best and all I could do.
I am still dealing with this, the hardest thing in my life for me to handle. We filled the sizeable Uhaul truck, packed to the gills with boxes full of my parents’ lives, and hauled it to our home in Kentucky. There, it was then transferred to one of our spare bedrooms — where it remains today. Oh, I’ve shuffled some boxes around and have emptied a couple of them. A couple I knew would be quick, easy, and not so sentimentally heart-wrenching.
It’s been a year and a half since we drove that Uhaul away, and my heart still feels the same. My very sweet niece and her family have made their home in the house now. It’s very well taken care of, full of love, and I know my parents are smiling. That thought makes me smile, too. However, I still can’t bring myself to go see the house all different from how I remember it: The basement, which was their entertainment center. The two recliners positioned in the front of the TV with a large, brown braided rug on the floor. The fireplace with gas logs. The little black stool beside Dad’s chair where all the remotes lay in a row. I can still see him sitting there, selecting our movie for the night.
The last movie Dad and I watched was Savannah Sunrise the day after Mom’s birthday in February 2017. I suppose he didn’t want to spend any more of her birthdays without her, so we didn’t watch any movies together for the rest of Dad’s life, which ended on June 27, 2017. The nappy brown blanket covering Dad’s recliner, along with a towel placed on the left armrest so Kokie Poo could sit with him and enjoy the nightly movies with us. The John Wayne blanket we’d given him for Christmas years before that he’d cover up with when the basement was chilly. Mom’s piano against the wall behind the recliners. The surround sound speaker taped to the steel pole by the stairs. The stairlift still attached and operational, collecting dust. Those and so many more memories.
Though I love the residents very much, and even though I know my parents lived their lives, their lives are done now. The house has become “the house my parents used to live in” instead of being “my parents’ house…” My logical brain understands that. My heart, however, just…can’t…see it looking differently. Not yet. Once again, I never ever could’ve imagined how emotionally difficult the task of being Executor would be for me, or how profoundly grief would’ve affected me. I’m not a very emotional person. I mean, I have emotions, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I don’t cry easily at all. Well, those AT&T commercials always made me tear up, but the tears don’t drip from my eyes. My heart is not on my sleeve, that’s for sure. I’m actually a little envious of those who can feel and freely express their heartbreaking emotions while they’re happening. But, that’s not me. I’m more of a get-the-job-done-and-be-sad-later kind of girl.
I have no idea when or if I will make that 2 hours and 15-minute drive again. Right now, today, the way I feel at this moment; honestly, it may be many more years. Yes, my parents’ gravesites are up there, wherein their ashes were placed in their urns and sealed inside their vaults, then buried beneath the soil. But that’s not where they are. They reside in my heart, and I can visit them there at any time.
So, that is the hardest thing to handle in my life, and how did I get through it? The short answer is, “One day at a time.” The long and ongoing answer follows.
My parents entrusted me with the incredible duty of handling their estate. My father instilled in me, by his example, that you always do the right thing, no matter the cost, the inconvenience or sacrifice required. To the best of my ability, I followed my parents’ wishes as they were set out in writing and verbally expressed to me, regardless of my personal feelings about it. Regardless of others’ not liking certain aspects of it, I did the right thing as they set forth, period. I put my grieving on hold so that I could focus on carrying out the tasks I needed to complete.
For several months after my Dad’s passing, I was in a funk, a state of limbo. I merely functioned on autopilot. I didn’t watch anything new on TV. I didn’t watch any movies because that reminded me so much of my time with Dad. I watched nothing but reruns of my favorite sitcoms, over and over. Sometimes, I would just sit in our living room in complete silence. I don’t recall if I did any kind of socializing during those months. I didn’t have any type of “meltdown,” as my friends and loved ones expected me to experience at any given moment. Like I was an emotional time-bomb waiting for 3, 2, 1 countdown. Honestly, I still really haven’t, not what I would consider a meltdown anyway. I feel sadness while missing my parents very much, and at times, I’ve had a little crying spell, but a meltdown, no. Maybe it won’t happen. It’s been almost three years since my father died, after all. It actually makes me feel like I’m a failure at grieving. I haven’t heard of anyone else having an experience like mine.
I recently began talking to a therapist to work through my complicated grieving process (that’s what I call it) and to further heal the wounds of my past. Our first session was the get-to-know-each-other session. I told my therapist about my regrets regarding my parents’ deaths and how I didn’t feel my grief was progressing or even healthy. She asked me to share one of my self-disappointments with her, and I said, “I should’ve deep cleaned.” She looked at me blankly from my computer screen, you know, since we’re doing this social distancing thing. For a second or two, I thought my computer had frozen, but she was simply a little stunned and speechless. She said, “I’ve been doing this for a very long time, and this is the first time that someone said they should have deep cleaned.” That made me chuckle.
As my “get through it” phase continues, I will certainly share my experiences with you. Through therapy, I learned that grief does not have an expiration date. There is no Best if expressed by date. It takes the time it takes, and that’s all there is to it. There’s no accelerator pedal, no fast forward button, no speed-grieving course. No one has the right to tell you, “Shouldn’t you be over that by now?” If someone asks that, they clearly have not experienced grief themselves or are stuck in their own state of denial. Grief is personal. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, although some methods could be more destructive than others. For me, one day at a time, I “get through it” a bit more.