I felt a need to write in response to this prompt. “Describe the circumstances and emotions of your hardest departure from family.”
I had driven over to my dad’s place with my youngest son It had been several months since dad died. My brother was sole executor of the Will and had rushed the proceedings through while the rest of us were still coming to terms with what was happening. He’d somehow managed to buy the place and pay out our shares so the house now was his, not mum and dad’s place. All that remained was to collect the bits and pieces he’d divvied up as our share of the family possessions.
My brother supervised the loading of my car. I didn’t really know why I’d even bothered coming over. It all felt so sordid – so utterly grubby. All the misunderstandings and miscommunications that had gone down when dad was dying. All those torrid terrible years when he ranted and raved in the Nursing Home. His personality had disintegrated as his dementia advanced. He’d always been a strong and opinionated man. As his illness progressed it was as if those qualities were distilled down into a loud and implacable rage. He’d forgotten who I was several years before.
Prior to that my mum had died a slow and tragic death from Parkinson’s disease. It had broken my dad. He’d never sorted out her possessions. Now they were apparently owned by my brother. Old raincoats and the stained white jumper dad had worn when he went bowling hung in dusty wardrobes with wonky doors alongside what remained of mum’s paintings – the ones that hadn’t sold – the near misses and the failures no one wanted. Cupboards still housed the chipped plates and scattered remnants of household goods that had been inherited from forgotten ancestors. Somewhere a few old photos were hidden away in tattered boxes.
Overseeing the loading of my car my brother was bombastic and acted like the Lord of Manor although the house was really just a holiday shack mum and dad had bought on retirement. As we said goodbye I noticed a greenish mould growing on the shady walls that faced seaward. My brother’s problem now.
I grabbed a moment and rushed back to the shed on some pretext. A place of happy memories – dad sorting through his own dad’s old tools and giving my sons some strange object from times past – the old wooden handles polished from use and brass fittings glowing softly in the dim light.
Suddenly it hit me. I was not likely to come back. At least for a good long while. My brother was already staking claims of ownership as he talked of remodeling the downstairs living room. It was his place now and he wanted to put his stamp on it as he described it in his bullying way.
I raised my camera and photographed the broken chairs hanging from the roof. I remembered them once standing proud and strong in the family home we’d grown up in. Like the rest of us they now bore the scars of the difficult years that followed.
That was nearly ten years ago. Much of the stuff I collected that day proved to be too hard to have around – bad memories of my father’s anger, my mother’s bipolar mood swings. The few things I’ve hung on to are from my own grandparents. People my children never knew. They are curious. “What was this grandmother’s name?” they ask. “What was she like?” An interest in the family tree has emerged. I recall old photos and family letters. “We must go there and record these things?” they say. Tentatively we plan a date later in the year when we will do just that. Although I see the sense in it and can see that my kids are seeking some kind of closure I’m not looking forward to it. Sometimes the need for healing takes us to difficult places.