Today marks the first time I’ve been back in my grandma’s house since her death. It’s been well over a month since I’ve been there and the awkward is palpable now. Not only did I have to go with my dad, who is less than enthused about seeing any of his mom’s stuff, but it appears that all five siblings have a different idea about how to handle the distribution and sale of her remaining things.
I was surprised I was actually asked to go tonight. The method of madness so far (as far as I can tell) is that the grand kids are to have nothing to do with the situation anymore and I should rely on my dad to pick up anything that I want to remember Grandma by. Yet tonight he came home from work while I was still hanging out with my sister and asked me if I would like to go look at the pile of things people had already gone through. So I went.
Now I’m sitting at my house writing this in the hope that I will not break down and cry. It felt so weird to be in that house that I went around and took photos of anything and everything that I may even consider wanting. I told Dad I would send him the pictures and that if no one else claimed the items, I would like to know how much they cost so that I could buy them myself.
I’m not sure how many of you reading this have ever dealt with a death of this kind before; I knew right after the holiday was bad enough, but I never thought about how weird it would feel walking through that empty house. I’m not even sure what the right word is for it: scavenger? Creeper? Definitely not something good, I can tell you that much.
So while trying not to have a panic attack about being in this horribly weird situation, I tried to get as much done as quickly as possible. It took me a few minutes, and then I figured out the system. So, at least from my point of view, here’s the best piece of advice if you ever find yourself in a similar situation:
- At first, I wanted to cry over every set of brushes, every pair of shoes, etc. It was like a creepy museum of my grandmother’s things. Try not to let that feeling overwhelm you. God knows, I almost did.
- If given the chance to get something from a loved one’s house after their passing, pick the things that are most full of memories.
I’m pretty sure I picked some of the least expensive things in the entire house to take pictures of. Want to know why? They reminded me of my time with my grandparents. Until I spent some time looking around tonight, I never realized how much of Grandma’s “old life” (ie. pre-grandpa’s death) that she kept around when she moved. In her living room were the ceramic puppies that I remember staring at near their front window when I was a little kid. I was convinced that I could play with them, but everyone always said I’d hurt them.
When I walked into her kitchen, I found all of the fancy plates I had given her one year for Christmas. There were two with farm scenery and one really pretty, old piece with green and gold edging and white flowers in the middle. These were the first gifts I ever bought for her on my own.
As I ventured in her bedroom, I wasn’t attracted to the family heirloom quilts or the fancy furniture. Instead, on a tiny shelf above her window, there were some of Grandma’s little knick knacks. Sitting one on each end of the shelf were two clear glass puppies that I never even knew she owned. *photo* Why take a photo of these? Because I got one from my great grandma when she died years and years ago. I picked up another from an antique shop because I had found it all on my own. Adding to my collection with a puppy from my grandma would be that much more meaningful to me.
I thought I was done, so I went back into the living room and looked in the box of books someone had placed on the floor. Dad said everyone just wanted to give them to Goodwill. I decided to take a peek. See, one thing I always remembered about Grandma was that she loved to read. There was always a book sitting on the side table near her armchair in the living room, no matter what house I picture her in. As I got older, Grandma started sharing her books with my sister and I. She’d buy some from Goodwill or the Community Aid store; when she was done reading, she’d pass a Staples box of books on to us, with the idea that we return them to her or give them back to the store where she got them when we were done. I think Grandma actually is the person that I got my love of reading from. No one else in my family that I know of reads as much as her and I have done.
I didn’t think I’d actually find anything I wanted to keep in this box of books, but then I found a few. The first was a book with Amish stories in it; when Grandma first ended up in the hospital this past Spring, I took her some of my Amish novels. She commented that she’d never really read anything like them before but that she enjoyed them. For the next few months, I spent time going through my bookshelves and lending her every Amish book I had. I wonder whether someone got this one for her after that fact or if she had it hidden away and just forgot she’d ever read it. In any case, it’s mine now. The second book was the memoir of Dwight D. Eisenhower. (I hate history books by the way.) Why? Because for about three years I had this bookstore manager gig where I ran the bookstore at the Eisenhower National Historic Site. It was during that time that I learned my grandfather had helped to build fences and things with people who directly new Ike. There was a possibility my grandpa even helped Ike himself! After learning that fact all those years ago, I decided that Grandma might enjoy a book about the president and his farming pursuits. I remember her telling me she truly enjoyed reading it; what I find even more surprising is the fact that she kept that book all these years, even though she mostly continued to pass on the rest of her books to others year after year. I guess I’ll have to read that memoir now, whether I want to or not. Then I’ll find a perfect spot for it on the front of a bookshelf somewhere that I can always remember the story behind me owning it.
Just before we left, I realized there was one other gift I remember giving my grandma over the years. It was a set of decorative plates with moose and snowflakes all over them. There was a particularly cute bowl that had a moose holding it too. I think I remembered this gift because at the time, I wanted it for myself. I remember exactly where I bought it, that it was on sale at the time, and that Grandma had already told us she didn’t really want anything for Christmas. Too bad, she got these moose anyway! I found the set in her cupboard in the living room, just waiting for her to pull it out for the next holiday season. I guess she never had the chance to use them as decoration this year. What hit me even harder was what I found in the cabinet right beside the bowl.
At first glance, I thought I had found some of my cousin’s son’s reading books. I know the kid is addicted to reading and really good at it. But as I was getting ready to shut the door, I noticed that the book that lay on top looked awfully old and pretty familiar. I decided to leaf through them (mostly because I was being nosey). That’s when I realized where these books had come from. Back when my grandma and grandpa lived in their old home together, I used to spend hours and hours at their house. One of my favorite things to do was to go back to the bedroom and search the bookshelf for loads of books to read. They were all pretty tiny children’s books and ranged anywhere from Winnie the Pooh to a book set about the different Zodiac signs having their own little adventures.
I feel like I’m really overthinking this right now, but I’d just like to say that I started to tear up immediately. I never knew Grandma kept these books; I thought they were all sold in the auction when she moved. More than that, I found it significant that they were sitting all alone with only one other thing in that entire cabinet, the thing being the gift I had given her. My overreaching brain feels so comforted to know that she kept these things that were so important to me. Now I wonder if they were also that important to her. I also wonder: if they were important to her, what was the memory that they held? Was it the same one that I still have of taking books out and reading them to my grandparents or hiding in the back room and Grandma walking back to check that I was still okay back there?
I guess in the end, I’ll never know why Grandma kept those books. And maybe it doesn’t really matter. Surely my emotional side is just taking over a bit. It was pretty stressful, awkward, and weird to be in her home without her, let alone searching through her things like I was at some kind of estate sale or weird store. In any case, I think I’m going to hang on to the memories that I found today. Some of those things I haven’t thought about in years. Even better, some of them were the good times, when my grandparents were both alive, when I was much younger and more carefree and when I never knew how tough it would be to be an adult living with all this worry and responsibility.
So thank you Grandma. Whether you intended to leave those items in a place you knew I’d find them, or whether it was a coincidence that I came across those memories you kept, thank you. Today was rough and I still feel like crying, but knowing things that mean the world to me also meant the world to you makes me feel even closer to you now than I’ve been able to feel since you left.