I go over to check on my mother’s house every so often now that no one’s living there and it’s up for sale. There is still some furniture there, and the power and water are still on. Sometimes I sit down on the living room sofa and look for ghosts.
So far I have not seen any. My mother is not stirring in the bedroom or in the kitchen. My father is not puttering around in the basement. I do not feel their presence, and I don’t expect to turn around and see either of them coming around the corner into the living room.
My father died 14 years ago. I felt his presence strongly for a long time after that. I was building our house then, and when I did something I was particularly proud of, I found myself thinking that I had to show it to him. That feeling faded over the years. I was used to having my father around for 50 years, and my internal model of the world still contained him after he died. But in the last 14 years, my internal world has changed to accommodate his death.
My mother’s case is different. She died only about a year ago, but her last years were not like the previous ones. She had serious balance problems, and thus falling problems. She had urinary tract infections and blood clots. Her world shrank to basically her bedroom, her bathroom and her living room. When we went to visit, we never knew whether we were going to find her lying on the bathroom floor, standing at the kitchen counter reading the paper, or snoozing in her recliner while NCIS reruns played on the television. She wasn’t the self-reliant, smart woman she had been, and her declining health lasted long enough that the old image faded. And then she spent nearly a year with my brother and sister in law in Virginia, and after that the last few months of her life at an assisted living facility. I didn’t get a chance to form a really strong new image of my mother in my world.
So by the time my mother died, my internal model of the world didn’t really have her or my father in their old roles. And so their presence doesn’t echo in their house.
What I do find is that various things evoke memories. My father kept his tools in a corner in the basement. Most of them are still there, and when I see them, I think of my father. My mother’s jewelry and art glass are gone, but there are still things in the kitchen and in the bookcase in the living room that make me think of her
I have a few of those things that make me think of them at our house. One of my favorite sets of memories is of going with them on a few long RV trips. They started traveling with an Airstream trailer in the early ‘70s before they retired. They started out towing their trailer with their 1966 Buick Wildcat coupe. They continued RVing until the late ‘90s, and for a time in the mid-90s I was able to go with them for a couple of months at a time.
They traded for various RVs, including other brands of trailer and a couple of motorhomes, but they always kept a pair of folding chairs that they bought early in their RVing lives. They were solid, high-quality chairs. They used them outside for sitting under the awning, and inside if they needed extra seating at the dinner table.
Now those chairs are in our garage. I see them every time I pull in, lying folded up against the wall. We have a travel trailer, but we don’t need or use the chairs, and, to tell the truth, they aren’t all that comfortable anyway. But there they sit.
The associations with my parents and with good experiences with them are so strong that it’s hard to think about disposing of them. But we don’t really need them, and we don’t need physical objects to remember my parents. I guess it’s time to let them go.