As regular readers of this blog, you may know that within the last 2 years, I’ve lost both of my parents. Aside from the emotional trauma, dull-death-admin, funeral arrangements and all of the other things you have to deal with when you lose those you’re closest to – one of the tasks that you’ll never prepare for is losing the family home.
My sister, Mum and I moved to Ashford, Middlesex, into a council house when my Dad lost his job and we lost the only family home we’ve ever owned. We moved partly because my beloved Grandad was gravely ill (with cancer because LOL 1in3 you say? Let’s try 3/3 of my closest relatives) and we wanted to look after him.
My Dad moved in with us a little while later once finances, the old house and his and my Mum’s relationship was in a better place.
And there I lived for the next 18 years. My sister up until this point, still lives there.
What you may not know, is that when a council tenancy ends because the tenants are deceased, it cannot necessarily be inherited in the same way owned property can.
My sister never really managed to move out of the house. She ended a relationship that was going to result in buying a house with her ex just as my Mum was getting ill. As I was at uni and in the midst of living out of the family home with a roommate, my sister felt like she should stay home to look out for Mum. Then when Mum passed, she again felt like the ties to home couldn’t be cut because my Dad would be too lonely.
Dad’s death came about far quicker than we could’ve imagined. No plans were in place. Certainly no finances. So my Sister was essentially made homeless. The council have no obligation to rehouse her. Therefore, a 3 bedroom family home, that now only housed 1, had to be turned over, picked apart, packed up and moved out of.
(Don’t worry about the twin, she can stay with her boyfriend for a bit, before saving up some money and finding her own feet)
But packing up a family home is a whirlwind of strange emotions.
I have all of the memories of living there and yet, no memories at all.
The sad memories – of fights, arguments, hurt, tears, illness, deaths and bad news are suppressed somewhere in my brain that I struggle every day not to revisit.
Yet the happy ones – with all of the people I love that lived there, they’re somewhere buried too.
Buried amongst the Beatrix Potter books that were Christening presents and pots and pans, scorched at the bottom from the chips Mum used to make fresh for chip loaves.
Happy memories that are hidden behind the leather sofas that put my parents in debt and could never be replaced because money was scarce.
Sad memories that are burned in a fireplace that was never lit because of all of the dead birds, cramped into the chimney.
But packing up a family home can unearth some of those memories.
Throwing the soft-toy my Mum gave us when she had to go away into a box to be looked at, smelled and cuddled another day may not have reminded me of what happened during that time, but it did help me to reminisce over the love we shared. (Reader: I am crying now).
Finding my sister’s diary from when we were 11 that was full of pages repeating how much she hated me may not remind me why she felt that way about me but it does remind me that for 31 years we’ve put each other through hell, but we’ve also been through hell together and made it out of the other side.
Discovering a cache of my Dad’s fake watches may not bring up memories of our oft-strained relationship but it does spark memories of buying him a Faux-lex on every holiday I went on because for 31 years I wanted to make him happy and I wanted him to love me. And gifts were always my Dad’s love language.
So then we found the DVDs and board games which he’d buy us every year to watch and play together and I remembered how even though as a family, we rarely showed affection, we often argued and we all drove each other crazy – we would still sit down every Christmas, watch those DVDs and play those games and keep some semblance of a tradition.
You see, packing up a family home will be a different experience for each different family. Because each family operates in their own way, celebrates on their own terms and loves differently.
And whilst my parents are gone, the parts of the house I once loved, hated, cried, argued, learned, grew, shared, cared and repaired in, are boxed up, in the skip or at the dump, the emotions I felt remain.
The memories I have may be packed away, somewhere in my brain – but these, unlike the broken vases and Spice Girl photo scrapbooks, will always move with me.