Family, Loss & Grief

Take Me Home

The other day I suddenly remembered something about the month of March. I don’t know how I could have forgotten something as personally important as this, but I guess it’s because it was so painful to think about that I pushed it to the back of my mind. It was the first of this month that my beloved family home was sold and turned over to its new owners. I honestly don’t know which has been harder to deal with, Grandma’s passing away or the loss of our beloved home.

To illustrate how important this home is to me, let me start off by saying that my grandfather build that house himself in 1976.  No one other than my family has ever owned or lived in that house. I was born in 1980 and have memories of that house going all the way back to my earliest baby years. In other words, I do not know life without that house. And I don’t know how to go on living without it still being there for me to return to as my home base. The thought of that house leaving our family and having strangers live in it is too painful and wrong for me to even think about.

photos
Three generations of family memories hung on the wall of this hallway.

Throughout my childhood and adult life, that house was my sanctuary where I found happiness, peace, safety, comfort, support, love, laughter, and comradery. To most children, Grandma & Grandpa’s House is a magical place where you get spoiled rotten and always get to have fun and get away with things you don’t normally get away with at home under your own parents’ roof. But to my brother and I, that house was a safe haven for us as kids.  It was a happy place where we could enjoy an occasional break from the abuse and chaos that permeated our own home and enjoy a taste of what a normal family filled with love was like.  As a child, I often wished that I could actually live there and have it BE my real home.  And a few years later, that’s exactly what happened.  A year or two later, my brother joined me and came to live in that home, too.

I remember the overwhelming feelings of relief and peace I felt during my first few days as a permanent resident of that home. I was so relieved and elated to finally live in a comfortable home where I had real love, support, security, and healthy boundaries, and where I didn’t have to listen to constant screaming and yelling or be on my constant guard lest some unknown, insignificant matter set off my “warden” into a violent psychotic rage.

grandparents Although Grandma and Grandpa were old-fashioned and strict on some matters, I no longer had to endure anyone controlling when and what I ate, when I used the bathroom, when I could take a shower, what color of clothing I wore, how I parted my hair, etc. I literally felt as if I had escaped to freedom after living under a dictator regime, and it took a few months for the PTSD symptoms I had to noticeably disappear. Instead of having my food intake restricted, Grandma heartily encouraged me to eat as much as I wanted. By the time he eventually joined us in that home, my brother had become nearly emaciated from having his food so severely restricted. After a few months of Grandma’s good food, he put on a normal amount of weight and shot up nearly a foot in height.  Grandma and Grandpa supported us in all of our school activities and hobbies.  They were bundled up and present in the bleachers for every home football game to watch me play in the marching band and dance with the Drill Team. They attended every school play and music concert I performed in.  Grandpa took countless photos of me for every school dance and prom I attended. Before I got my driver’s license and my own car, Grandma happily drove me to and from school and my part-time job. Unlike my own biological mother who never took an interest in any of my school activities and did not want me to inconvenience her in any way, Grandma and Grandpa gladly took on the role of real parents to me and my brother.

After I graduated from high school and college and spent some time living in Chicago, Decatur, and Farmersville, that house was still my Home Base where I regularly returned to in order to recharge and be with my loved ones.  No matter what was going on in my life, I always felt calm and at peace when I was in that house.  In fact, that house was Grand Central Station for our entire family. Every holiday gathering was held there every year. Every family celebration was held there. That house was like the glue that held our family together. And it was filled with history, too.  That house was filled with antiques and artifacts that had been passed down for multiple generations. I just simply cannot conceive of anyone other than our clan living in that home. It just seems blasphemous to me.

livingroom
My heart will forever be filled with memories of tranquility, laughter, and family in this room.

After a serious relationship in which I was cohabiting with a boyfriend fell apart and ended, my family welcomed me back home since I had nowhere else to go.  A few months later, I began my career with the State of Illinois making a very comfortable salary. I had intended to find a place of my own nearby to move into now that I was back on my feet and making more money than I had ever made before. But then Grandpa suddenly died, and now Grandma was all alone in that house. I felt that she needed someone there with her after losing her partner and best friend of 53 years.  Plus, Grandma was getting older, and while she was still very tough and independent, she had begun to have a few bad falls around the house and other places.  So far she hadn’t been seriously injured in any of those falls, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t happen. She needed someone around to help keep an eye on her and help her out when needed.  So I stayed.  And I wasn’t bothered much by it, because that house had always been my favorite place in the world.  And now that I had a good career and was making good money, I was able to help Grandma financially whenever she needed it and spoil her a little.  And a few years later when I decided that I really needed to leave Illinois and spread my wings elsewhere, my brother took my place and moved in with Grandma for a year while he was transitioning in his move from Colorado to Maine. It was only for the final year of her life that Grandma was alone in the house by herself, except for my two cats that she was taking care of for me until I came back to get them. And I’m glad that Grandma didn’t have to spend seven years alone in the house after Grandpa died….I’m glad that she always had family there with her to keep her company and give her a purpose until the end.

kitchen
I miss the familiar old sights, sounds, and smells of this kitchen more than anything in the world.  I sat down to eat family dinners at this table for three decades.

Oddly enough, I recall a tiny handful of college schoolmates who often felt compelled to stick their noses into my personal life and tell me that I was “pathetic”, “broke poor”, “a failure”, and “a loser” because I shared a home with Grandma for a few years as an adult. How they even knew where and who I lived with must have required some hardcore stalking considering I was not friends with any of them and did not live in the same cities or states as they did.  According to them, you’re not a true successful adult unless you live in your own home with a spouse, 2.5 kids, and a white picket fence by the age of 23. Whatever…

Well you know what? I wasn’t anything near “broke poor” or “pathetic” back then. I had an excellent career with the government and was making just under $50,000 a year at the time when I resigned to move to Florida. The cost of living in rural Illinois is CHEAP, and I could have easily afforded a home of my own around there with the amount of money I was earning, whether I chose to rent or buy. In fact, before I decided to move to Florida, my father and I had discussed the idea of me buying Grandma’s house myself just in case she ended up in a nursing home someday, and then Medicare wouldn’t be able to force her to sell the house to pay for her nursing home costs if I already owned it. I could have easily bought that house from her with my salary.  I also toured a few other homes on the market that I considered buying.  But deep down, I felt so safe and secure and comfortable in that home where I had found peace and sanctuary all of my life that it was hard for me to leave it. And now I am more glad than ever that I stayed with her no matter how “pathetic” anyone thinks it was, because I got to spend a few extra years with Grandma enjoying her company and that home. And the memories I have from those years with her are absolutely priceless.  You can call me a pathetic loser as much as you want, but it will NEVER make me regret staying there in that home with her.

Ironically, as it usually tends to be with assholes who loudly crow about how much better their lives are than everyone else’s, many of the idiots who gave me such grief about this were nowhere near having their own lives in order at all. Many of them were young single parents, unemployed, uneducated, still living at home with their own parents and trying to hide it, still receiving financial help from their parents since the scumbags they were married to didn’t have jobs either, and bouncing from one loser fuckboy’s house to another in search of security and stability.  A quick search of the public online county court records proved to anyone who cared to look that the ones who claimed they were “happily married” were actually embroiled in long, bitter divorce proceedings. (I mean seriously, if you’re going to gloat about creeping through my public records to stick your nose into my family legal matters, did you honestly think I wouldn’t do the same to YOU and find out all of YOUR dirty laundry?? Two years is a hell of a long time to be battling over a divorce when you’ve only been married for three or four years total, so I’d say you were anything BUT “still happily married”.)  Even the few who did own their own homes didn’t actually have anything to brag about, because until that mortgage is paid off, you don’t own that home……the bank does. And if you fall on hard times or default on that home loan for any reason, the bank takes your house and you are left without a home.  Bragging that you are paying a home owner’s mortgage is only admitting that you are thousands and thousands of dollars in debt. The people who criticize you the most are the always the ones whose own lives are biggest train wrecks, and this proves itself to be true over and over again.

After Grandma died, the biggest question on my mind was what was going to happen to our house. It didn’t seem feasible for me to buy it now that I lived 1,300 miles away, and no one else in the family seemed to want to buy it.  Both my father and my Uncle Mark are looking to buy new homes, so I absolutely begged for one of them to please buy it so that we could keep it in the family.  Uncle Mark simply has no interest in buying it since it isn’t the style and size that he is looking for.  My dad must have given my pleading some thought, because during Grandma’s funeral, my stepmother told me that if no one else bought the house then she and my dad would throw caution to the wind and buy it themselves. But the last I heard from my family, someone else had expressed interest in it and planned to close on March 1st. The month of March is almost over, so that means another family is already living in my beloved home.  I have 35 years filled with memories of that home, and I have no idea how I will continue on without my Home anymore.  I feel like a homeless orphan now.  I used to look forward to coming home once or twice a year to see my family and old friends.  Now I feel no inclination to come home at all. Although I know that any of my family would be more than happy to host me in their homes during my stay, it would be too painful for me to be there knowing that I no longer have a Home to come home to.  And I don’t think I could bear to drive past my old house or even drive in that area of town knowing that house no longer belongs to me and that I can’t go to it anymore. So for the time being, I stay away down here in Florida and just avoid it all.  I just can’t deal with it now, and I don’t know if I will ever be able to.

When I came home for Grandma’s funeral, I stayed in the house for close to two weeks by myself.  Friends and family dropped by here and there to take care of business or visit with me, but at night when I sat in the living room watching TV or laid in my bed, the unfamiliar silence in that house was deafening.

bedroom There were no familiar noises of Grandma walking about, chatting on the phone, or clanging about in the kitchen.  Just dead silence. I did my best to savor each moment in that house during that final stay, because I knew that it would be the last time I would ever get to stay in my home, sleep in my old bedroom, and see the entire house the way it had always looked.  I cannot describe to you the pain and sadness I felt knowing this. It literally felt as if my own life was coming to an end. Even though Grandma was gone, my family still held our Thanksgiving dinner gathering at the house just as we had always done every year.  It was our one “final hurrah” before saying goodbye to that house and the traditions we had kept in it for decades. Throughout my lonely week and a half in that house alone, I made myself go through all of the rooms and take pictures so that I would always be able to remember it the way it was.  Although her physical presence was painfully absent from that house, I did feel her spiritual presence there.  There was even a moment when I clearly heard her speak.  Lexi was throwing one of her usual loud nighttime fits, and clear as day I heard a soft whisper of a voice say “Heeeyyyy!!”  That was Grandma.  She always said that to Lexi whenever she was throwing a fit.

 

window
“Your eyes turn towards the window pane to the lights upon the hill. The distance seems so strange to you now; the dark room seems so still.”

 

When I left that house for the last time to return to Florida with my Lexi, I crammed as many of Grandma’s belongings as I could fit into Uncle Mark’s van to take with me to my home in Florida. Anything special or sentimental that no one else in the family wanted, I took.  I took Grandma’s old rose flower towels that hung in her back bathroom from the late 1970’s to the early 1980’s….they were the first towels I remember seeing in her bathroom as a small child.  I took the old vintage scallop shaped metal chair that had also sat in her back bathroom for as long as I could remember. Anything that made me automatically think of her and that home, I took.  I wanted as many of her things as I could have to bring into my own home so that I could hold on to those memories.

I’m not a religious person, and I do not believe in Heaven or Hell or the stereotypical idea of a Heaven where everyone floats around on white clouds as angels.  However, I DO believe that our psychic energy lives on after death, since energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Our psychic energy doesn’t disappear when our bodies die. I own a book in my collection written by a psychic medium named Concetta Bertoldi. In this book, she answers 1001 questions people have asked her about death, spirits, and the afterlife.  There’s a section in this book where she talks about what “Heaven” is really like, and she got a description of it through talking to a deceased person’s spirit who had passed on to the other side. According to what this deceased person’s spirit energy told her, “Heaven” on the other side is whatever you want it to be.  You can do anything you want, go wherever you want, and be with whoever you want.  You literally create your own Heaven after you pass on. Whatever you enjoyed doing on earth as a living physical being, you can do again as a spirit on the other side.

Upon recalling that author’s words after Grandma’s death, I now know without a doubt where I’m going after I die: I’m going Home.  I’m going back to my old familiar home where I belong to be with Grandma and Grandpa and all of our other departed family members again.  Life as I once knew it will continue again.  And of course, all of my kitties will be sitting at the bench near the back door waiting for me to walk in again. Grandpa, keep the fireplace stoked. And Grandma, keep the oven warm and a plate of food waiting for me at the table.  I’ll be Home again soon.

 

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