15 August 2013

Of Solitude and Memory

“Some steps need to be taken alone. It's the only way to really figure out where you need to go and who you need to be.”  
Mandy Hale

 This summer, I've been working through what must be one of the saddest parts of life: Preparing for an estate sale. 

This is a position I expected to be in at some point in my life...just not right now. And certainly not under these circumstances. By all accounts, my parents were two of the most active and healthy people you'd ever meet. So it was a shock to lose my mom five years ago to a massive heart attack in the course of just a couple of hours. The second blow came when I lost my dad on Mother's Day to a stroke. 

Both of my parents had cancer, but both were taken quickly by something else. If I screw my head on straight and rise above the immediate pain, I see tremendous blessings in both situations: Neither of my parents had to undergo treatment, pain, or suffering. I loved them dearly and know that none of us would have handled a prolonged illness well. So the current situation, while terribly sad for those of us who remain, is probably the least painful outcome for everyone. But it's a reality that I have grappled with -- and will be grappling with -- for some time to come.

This is surely one of the hardest aspects of being an only child. There is no escaping the fact that I am very alone in this process. Of course, I have many caring friends and family members who have offered to help me. For the most part, I have declined these very kind offers -- not because I'm trying to push people away, but because the memories I must process are mine alone. For me, this journey is intensely personal and private. No one else shares my past. Only children are comfortable being alone, and this is a road that I must travel by myself. It's not easy, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm alone on this journey, yes. But I'm definitely not lonely.

As I've worked through the contents of the garage, house, and outbuildings, I've embraced the process as part of my healing. I pick up an object and it triggers a memory. It gives me the opportunity to reflect and move forward. This is something I can only do alone. If I want to sit on the floor and cry, I can do so without needing to explain. To be sure, this journey sometimes feels impossibly hard. But as an only child with strong introvert tendencies, I gain strength to handle it from the "think time" that being alone affords. Being with others can zap my inner resources, and that's not what I need right now.

Here's an example. This cupboard might look like just a hodgepodge of kitchen items. But I knew what was inside before I even opened the door: A box of crystal coasters, missing one or two. A wooden dish which held assorted nuts each holiday season. An old coffee can filled with cookie cutters. After a few days of opening the cupboard door and quickly closing it, one day I finally got the courage to lift the lid of the can. I breathed in deeply. It smelled like Christmas cookies. It smelled like my mom. This is my memory. Mine alone to process.

 In the garden shed, I ran across these gnomes which lived in my grandma's rambling flower bed many years ago. Knowing her, I'm sure they had names and a detailed back story. As I wiped the cobwebs from their beards, I thought of her creative spirit which manifested itself in so many ways. As it turns out, I love gnomes, too, and I know she would be pleased that I brought the cheerful pair home to live in my garden. This little "gnome bond" is between Grandma and me. Just the two of us.

My dad's workshop smells of motor oil. The scent will always remind me of him. I've spent many days in his shop trying to bring order to the jumble of tools I can't identify. But I know it's not really about organizing as much as it is about letting go. These are my memories to seal.
So although I'd give anything in the world not to be on this journey, I believe there is healing to be found along the way. My goal is to handle it in a way that brings honor to my parents and comfort to my soul. As an only child, this is the last thing I alone can do for my them, and I want to do it well. 

So while I may be alone on this journey, quiet solitude is what I need right now as I figure out the way forward without my parents. How lucky I am to have a lifetime of memories to keep me company along the way.


Sarah Coggins said...

Big huge HUGS. I can't begin to imagine. You are right - better quick than long and drawn out illness, but still heartbreaking and a journey for you nonetheless. Sending lots of well wishes and prayers as you work through this next step. I hope you uncover many happy memories that warm your heart.

Janet said...

Thank you for your kind words, Sarah! I greatly appreciate and need your warm thoughts and prayers. :)

Kristina said...

Thinking of you Janet as you go through your journey.