Grief is an oscillation between want and have, between need and want, between here and gone. It does strange things to a person. When my mother died I kept saying to my aunt, over and over, “this must be so hard for you”.
A Freudian might call it transference. My aunt finally broke and asked “why do you keep saying that?” And I bumbled around for a while, something about having had mum her whole life, and realising as I said it that I had had mum my whole life too…
My father walked through the house carrying copies of my mother’s will, gripping the thing that made the most sense to him. He told us, “take what you want that came from you; I don’t want it”, but he kept things that made no sense.
Grief is more profound than sadness; it’s a study in juxtaposition: hollow but full of emotions, quiet but unquiet, busy but desperately bereft of purpose. So as I wade through the remnants of my mother’s life that have been packed away in boxes in the corner of the master bedroom in my father’s house, I bear witness to my father’s grief undone, laid bare before me.
Her diplomas next to the ugly construction paper name plate from her hospice room. Newspaper clippings from her career tucked in beside newspaper clippings of her car accident (made the news because her car ended up upside down in the middle of a fairly busy street and nobody was injured). Her birth announcement, tattered and crumbling, with literal stacks of her funeral cards. Two sheets of bubble pack medication, every farewell from her retirement, and snapshots of every part of her life.
My father, no stranger to grief, packed it all away, but only sorta away, so that he saw the piles of it every time he went to bed. Perhaps unironically he prefers to sleep on the chesterfield.
I have come to his house to meet with a realtor. To sell my childhood home. Da will be moving to a retirement community next month and he would not be able to sort through these parts of his life, locked up and packed away, so here I am. This place is both a mausoleum and a comfort.
Stacked on the table are dozens of Readers Digest magazines, still in their plastic poly bags. They are new and unopened. They are addressed to my mother.
My mother has been dead for seventeen years, but this is the last thing that was in her name and he couldn’t bear to cancel the subscription. He doesn’t read them, but sometimes he opens them and stacks them in the bathroom above the wc. For the last couple of years he’s just been stacking them in the kitchen.
I put them in the recycling and cancelled the subscription. Perhaps it felt like another ending; perhaps it felt like nothing at all. That Da would hold on to this as the last thing of my mother’s is both maddening and heartachingly sweet.
His grief looks like this: stacks of magazines, photographs and mementoes packed away in giant plastic tubs, and empty, echoing rooms in this big, old house.