There’s not much left in my mother’s house this morning. One sofa, a table and lamp in the living room. One other lonely sofa in the long rectangular family room. My grandmother’s bedroom set, my teenage bedroom furniture. A big old desk in the basement and some empty storage cabinets. The new owner was happy for me to leave those things behind. And I, suddenly extremely weary of this process, was only too happy to comply.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the process of giving away my mother’s belongings. There have been many hands involved, much word of mouth, and finally most everything she owned has found its way to new homes, new owners, new uses. Many of them are people I’m acquainted with, and it's curiously satisfying to think of friends resting in her chairs, eating a meal at her table using her silverware, gazing at the artwork she chose for her walls, lighting their rooms with the warmth of her lamps. One friend says she thinks of me and my mom when she settles into one of the wicker chairs she took from the patio; another says her son refers to the coffee table as “Becky’s mom’s table” whenever he uses it. My mom’s closest neighbors have taken many remembrances of her. So have their children who are adults now, but who spent many a childhood summer night on my mom’s back porch, coloring and eating late night snacks of ice cream bars and homemade peanut butter cookies.
Poet Merritt Malloy’s beautiful Epitaph begins “When I die/Give what’s left of me away...” Of course, my beautiful mother left a much deeper legacy than the furnishings in her home. But still, those pieces of her daily life were important, they were part of the fabric of her existence for years and years. They are containers of her experiences, of our times together as a family, of moments spent doing all the things we do each day. They are real and tangible reminders of her life, lived with grace and courage and love.
Tomorrow I will sign away the biggest material piece of what’s left of her - the home that sheltered her for 42 years. I won’t lie. I’m afraid of the way I’m going to feel after those papers are signed. I’m afraid the gossamer wings of recovery, still so fragile in my heart, will be torn in two and that I’ll have to start weaving the web of acceptance all over again. Whenever I think of her house, I think of it as Sanctuary - a place where I was always loved, always cared for with tenderness, could always laugh or cry without judgement.
Novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote an entire book based on the premise that “You Can’t Go Home Again.” But Thomas Wolfe didn’t know my mother. Her home was always “home” to me in every sense of the word. When I knew the house had been sold for sure, I was talking to my son, trying to hold back tears. “You and I are alike,” he said, "in that we attach a lot of emotional meaning to things, like cars and houses. But she was what made the house so special. Without her there, it’s really nothing more than a building."
I’m holding tightly to that thought, and to the knowledge that what made her house a home is the love she gave to everyone who entered it - not just me and my family, but to her friends and neighbors as well. By giving away all those bits and pieces of the life she lived there, I hope they feel her love going with them, taking root in their homes and their hearts.
And I hope they will be inspired to pass it on.
“Love doesn’t die, people do,” writes Malloy in the final words of Epitaph. “So when all that’s left of me is love/Give me away."
The last thing I took from the house today was a cartoon drawing my son made when he was five or six years old, and taped to the back of the door that enters the house from the garage. I recall that we had stopped by on our way home from church one Sunday, and my mom and dad had gone out for the afternoon. But she left us a delicious homemade brunch, and his drawing served as a thank you note. She never took it down, and over the ensuing 30 years it has faded almost beyond recognition. But I know what it says by heart. “I loved the quiche and the cinnamon bun and everything,” he wrote, next to a drawing of two rabbits sitting at a dining room table.
“Thank you and we love you. From Brian and Mama."
Truer words were never spoken. Forever and always.