It is as if I can hear the house breathe. Each breath in brings the sounds of life past: the soft clatter of dishes in the sink; the whisper of my mother’s voice; the clamor of my husband’s favorite newscasters. Each inhale is a quiet cacophony of memories, reminders of the love and laughter that flowed from room to room. Now the house exhales. The kitchen, the dining room, the den, the living room, all four bedrooms are so very silent that I listen for a heartbeat. Each time I listen, I hear less. Each time I hear less, I try to hear more. It is not a battle I will win.
This house held our lives within its walls for ten years. Now it echoes back the sound of my husband’s hands lightly slapping my butt as he walked by, grinning as he would exclaim, “Hey, Babe.” He took pride in owning these two cheeks, confident that once he touched them, all other hands were forbidden. Bob was right. He has been gone for two years, yet somehow he still owns my butt.
The kitchen is spacious now, just one person moving about. Before, there were others — caregivers — that scurried around cleaning, cooking, feeding Mother. Zena, Ailyn, Ruth, May and more, most from the Philippines, a “beautiful” country they would tell me, treated Mother with respect and dignity, honoring her as though she had traces of royalty. These women left family, often children, in hopes of being able to send money back home. Their sacrifice was our gain. I miss their voices, their singing, and the love they brought into our home. The house breathes with less depth in their absence.
I walk by Mother’s room, and the quiet transforms into a rhythmic pulsing in my head. Her loss is the most recent, and the sight of her pink bedspread, her jewelry box sitting on her dresser, and the crystal bedside lamp owned by three generations now, makes my insides weak. I know I must clean out her room, but the container that holds her ashes still sits in the closet. My instinct is to throw the box against the wall, yet my need is to cradle what remains of her in my arms. Instead, I quickly shut her door. I don’t like her being dead. I just want her home. I want both of them home. Alive and in the flesh.
Yet they are home. I still feel their presence, but less so. Sometimes there are funny reminders, such as the television or the chandelier in the dining room. Both still have a way of turning on unannounced, but less frequently now. Cupboards close downstairs when no one is home but me. I can hear the noises in my office, and I sit and shake my head with a smile. I love this odd, playful support from, I assume, the other side.
But this house is built for four. I am one. The march of time pulls me forward as I form a new life. The hand is played, the deck is stacked. I must move on.
It’s just a house, brick and mortar, Bob used to say. Don’t get attached, he would tell me. It is easy to let go of run-of-the-mill brick and mortar, but how does one say goodbye to memories? To walls, adorned with our lives in pictures, walls that absorbed our laughter, our occasional fights, even our passion? How does one leave the kitchen where Mother, when confused, would call me Mommy?
But what puzzles me most is that which I understand the least. How do I leave their spirits, or souls, or ghosts — or whatever phrase one might choose — that still give me comfort? When I walk out the front door for the last time, will they walk with me? I cannot endure any other thought.
And so, I search for closure. Closure to honor the memories I have collected, closure to celebrate the beauty that we shared together. Enough closure to leave, but not enough to lose the presence of those I love.
I will cry when I hand the keys to the new owner. I will feel the pain when I walk down the steps, open my car door and drive away. Perhaps what I need is a celebration of sorts, a tribute to life after death, for that is what I face now: my life after their death. Shall I honor my next home in some special way to help me let go of the home we all shared? Maybe. But if I do, there is one invitation that will be shared in the quiet spaces between the walls.
“Mom, Bob, join me. Please.”
© 2013 Jeanette Reese