Farewell, and Thanks for the Love
Lifelong doors are closing for my extended family. Lengthy, layered chapters are swiftly spelling out their last words. There will be no new adventure once the last jot and tittle is put down. These doors will not open again.
The sensible voice in my head says that life only goes forward, and what is past stays behind. Trying to drag it along like luggage in tow will not help and is exhausting besides. Looking back certainly didn’t help Lot’s wife any. That’s what sensible says.
Well, right now, sensible can go sit on a tack. Sensible can put a sock in it. Sensible is an unwelcome salesman. I’m not interested.
First comes a reckoning, and time to grieve.
Sticks and Stones and Treasures
The house that holds over 70 years of my family’s history is being sold to strangers. Very soon it will be gone. It feels as though the family tree is being chopped down.
It is an ordinary house that has been the nucleus of ordinary family life for generations. Family dinners, card games, birthday parties and holidays, a million loads of laundry up and down the stairs, waiting in line for the bathroom, dishes washed and dried by hand, sweet pipe tobacco wafting through the open window by the front porch. The table around which children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren have gathered for decades and tens of thousands of meals.
My grandmother, like an anchoring presence, in her chair crocheting blankets and towels to give to just about everyone. The workbench in the basement where I can still see my grandpa and my father working. The towering trees at the end of the driveway that feel like steadfast friends who’ve watched over every moment all these years.
Steps from the front door, the park where we all played as children. The park where, when he was young, my father fell from a tree and broke both arms. The park where I’ve taken my own children to swing and slide just as I did as a girl.
And the lake. The beautiful lake, with its stalwart lighthouse, playful waves and rocky shoreline. The massive ships going back and forth every day, in between the sailboats and fishing boats. Splashing in the cold water, playing in the soft sand. Hunting for sea shells and Petoskey stones and lake glass.
Trials and sorrows as well are embedded in the house. Cancer, strokes, age and illness, the loss of independence, and finally death. My grandparents both died in the house, in the same room. First him, then years later, her.
The Collective Memory
That house is the collective memory in brick and mortar. It is engraved in my childhood and in my heart. Now, like it or not, the time has come to say goodbye. I will never again be able to walk through the back door and climb the five narrow steps up to my grandmother’s tiny kitchen. Never again look out the living room window at that lovely lake.
The history, the innumerable memories within those walls will become distant recollections never to be touched again. Kept in our hearts, retold in our stories for as long as the storytellers may remember, but that is all. The brick and mortar, wood and metal, creaks and rattles will no longer be there for us to feel and take in. The keys will be handed over, the last sentence written, and the story will end as the door closes behind us.
It feels much like a death. And like every loved one’s death, it comes too soon and we’re not ready and please not yet and do you really have to go? Must this really happen? Can’t we find a way to prevent this? How are we supposed to let go? I hate this.
More Than Letting Go
The first child born in that house is now an old man, and he is dying. Death upon death, wrenching away upon wrenching away. We would stop it if we could. It feels too painful to bear.
It all has to go, for we take nothing with us. Nothing except the contents of our own heart, for good or evil. If we cling to anything but God, we cling to wisps of vapor that leave us falling and flailing. Nothing will last except love, and love only comes from God, for He is love. It is love that keeps safe all that we hold dear, including our family history and the random, treasured memories of everyday sacred moments. Voices, faces, fragrances, sounds, rituals, traditions, heirlooms and mementos must all one day vanish except from the heart of Love itself. Whatever we wish to keep must be found there.
The house will belong to a new family and begin a new story with them. Life only goes forward. All will be well as long as we go forward into Love.
Jennifer Hartline is a senior contributor to The Stream. You can follow her at @jenniehartline.