As you will be aware from my previous posts, my father has recently moved up to Nottingham to be near me so that he can benefit from the extra help provided by a residential care setting. It has been such a joy to have him nearby, and to be able to see him regularly and to take him out to exciting things such as Mahler concerts and steam galas.
During the transition period I found it really hard to write about my feelings and did a mega-copout by posting my series of articles on Simplicity instead of addressing the intense and traumatic experience of helping my father accept the need for the move.
This last month has seen me too-ing and fro-ing to Dorset, together with one of my sisters, to sort out and clear my father’s house. The house is being let unfurnished to provide an income to help with care fees – a decision my father was involved in. He was also involved in all the choices that we made about what he would like to have with him and what to do with the things that the family did not want or need.
Clearing the house has been alternately incredibly stressful and very moving, and was a process not made easier by having a severe ear and chest infection. Family relations have been strained to their limits, with full melt-downs followed by hugs and tears. Other people I have spoken to tell me that this is normal given the circumstances! I saw the New Year in at a local pub with my sister for company and loads of happy and somewhat tipsy people jumping up and down erratically as the TV above the bar blared out Auld Lang Syne.
The first week of sorting, with my sister alongside, was too full-on to draw breath. In five days we attempted to sort out and process all the ‘family’ possessions, furniture and sentimental keepings, alongside 91 years-worth of my father’s gathered clutter. Clutter is actually the wrong word for what my father kept – he is an incredibly detailed and organized man and everything was addressed, labeled, dated and filed in strict order, right down to old school brochures, medical correspondence, and the tear-off Postcards from his Talyllyn railway calendars. Some of his Railway magazines dated back to 1904!
Boxes are now packed and distributed and other things stored, ready for shipping to family members in Britain, France and Australia. People came and went and took things away. Visits were made by local charities and a hospice shop, auctioneers, model engineering friends, carpet fitters, gas safety checkers, and clearance people. My car returned to Nottingham pretending it was a removal van and not a small Mazda 2 with a tiny boot. Dad is now surrounded by familiar things – the walls of his new room sporting train pictures, one of my mother’s tapestries, family photographs, pictures of his house, and a map of Jersey – the island where his father’s family lived. He must be the only resident of a care home who can boast a genuine steam locomotive on the top of his bookcase! (It is proving quite a visitor attraction…)
Ten days later and I was back at the house again, and this time on my own. Despite the ever-changing personnel of decorators, electricians, window fitters, the skip man, estate agents, and the most amiable clearance team I have ever met, I managed to find time to say some ‘goodbyes’ over cups of tea and supper-invites. The strangest thing, though, was that over time the sorting began to feel like a spiritual process.
I really wanted to see things find good and appropriate homes and not simply end up in landfill, and as the days went on more and more options opened up. One friend of dad’s went over-and-above the call of friendship and made multiple runs to and from the house in his estate car – collecting things to sell in a charity sale in aid of dad’s church and taking massive piles of metal, wood and cardboard for recycling. Tools went to a charity for reconditioning and reuse in countries that need them. Another friend appeared and found new homes for my mother’s sewing and tapestry materials and sewing tables. I was introduced to a local project that took away crockery, saucepans, cutlery, the TV and other household items – to be provided to vulnerable people who were setting up home with little or no money. It was as if dad’s home was opening out its arms and giving of the gifts inside.
Do I sound sentimental? Yes, I suppose I am. But also I believe that if you open up your heart and long for something it will be given to you. That openness to spirit and that of God in the world allows these nurturing processes to flow.
In my last day I had some time to spare and managed to still myself from the urge to set off home early. Instead I took some time to contemplate and to walk the paths I loved in the winter sunshine. I took photographs and had a coffee in a local café. I accepted the wonderful hospitality of a bed for the night and a meal with dad’s friends. There was a short, said communion service at the church.
So… Now I feel ready to move on. I feel that this change has been the right thing and that the universe is in harmony with it. I am grateful that dad seemed happy and settled on my return. It is a new chapter for both of us, and I am open to where it will lead.
Having the decorators and house clearance team in tandem (NOT my decision!) – what a nightmare! Trying to separate the piles the decorators needed (curtains and curtain rails, lightshades, hoover, ladders, paints, tools) and the piles to get taken away. Finding the kettle under dust-sheets!! Miraculously, the only casualty was the centre of a loo-roll holder.
Saying ‘goodbye’ to Shaftesbury after clearing dad’s house – walking quietly in the cold winter sunshine along my favourite routes and lanes and taking photographs. It was almost a meditative process, and very moving.
© Anne de Gruchy