A short while ago I had an e-mail from a friend currently engaged in the sad task of clearing out her recently-deceased Father’s house. She told me how she was doing most of this on her own, as her only brother and his family lived abroad. However, being over for the funeral, he and his wife had volunteered their help in sorting his affairs. (Am I unfair in thinking this was done with one eye on the probate?).
Anyway, my friend related to me how her sister-in-law and brother, not being particularly emotionally involved with the late father and his belongings, were very quick to chuck out what seemed to them to be useless rubbish, but what my friend, who as a single woman had looked after both her parents in their later years and last illnesses, regards as priceless treasure – such as her Dad’s old hat or Mum’s favourite cardi. She had found herself tearing open the black bin bags after her family had gone home in order to ‘rescue’ such trophies and secrete them away before their next visit.
Being myself in a similar position , although I am glad to say my father is not deceased but has been placed in a very good Nursing Home due to his increasing frailty, I find myself empathising with all she says.
I too have been caring single-handed for my disabled Dad for the ten years since my Mum died, and more intensively these last two years (with the help of excellent carers) when Dad became chair-ridden and virtually helpless. Now that I have had to take the sad decision that my Dad must have 24 hour care, I too am having to clear out his home of almost 60 years – my childhood home. I therefore fully understand the almost mystical bond which developed between my friend and her Dad during this time, as I too can attach stories to every piece of old linen or cracked cup which should really now be consigned to the bin.
When possible, I have been joined in this task by my sister, who through no fault of her own has only been able to visit my Dad very occasionally these last years. Helped also by a very kind friend, we have gone through most of the contents of the maisonette, with the two of them black-bagging loads of stuff whilst I cringed and plotted and tried to work out how to retrieve some of the things – to be fair neither of them would have had any idea of the significance attached to these items – without looking daft.
I am now reduced to more or less begging family members (my poor kids with small flats and kids of their own to contend with!) to take some of what I regard as family treasures, and have ended up with boxes and boxes of things stored all around my small house, with the spare bedroom stacked so high from floor to ceiling you cannot now enter at all.
It is hard to explain how, in some ways, it is more difficult to dispose of someone’s belongings when they are still alive (thank goodness – I never want to lose my Dad EVER!); but at the great age of 91, his body has failed him while his brain is as sharp as it ever was, so that he is quite aware of his position and what I am having to do. I am in constant fear that he will one day ask for something which has been completely disposed of – and as I am the main carer, it will indeed be me who has to explain this. It is doubly difficult, as my father was a cabinet maker by trade, very skilled indeed, and his home is full of furniture and beautiful artefacts made by his own hand.
And so we continue separately, me and my friend, and no doubt sons and daughters all over the land, rooting through bins and sneaking away with bags of contraband scarves, ornaments and tablecloths which our relatives had decreed were destined for the Charity Shop, wishing we had been able to afford an extension on our houses as we try to fit the contents of 2 households into one and still be able to see light through the windows.
But as I sit here looking at a pile of boxes topped by a perfectly dove-tailed 70 year old tea-tray made lovingly by my Father just before he married my Mother, my conscience is relatively clear, and I shall carry on sorting and storing, and falling over bulging boxes, happy in the knowledge I am doing my best to keep faith with my Dad, as he always did with me.