Saying goodbye to a childhood home

It's hitting me today. The house is still there, but tomorrow is sale completion day on my late mother's home. This photo shows the gate at the bottom of her garden. What fun we children had, going beyond that gate into the wooded area beyond, down the hill to the small stream which we often attempted to dam. Sometimes you have to close a gate, knowing you can never open it again. I did that (tearfully) with this gate not long ago.

I still have a key to "Mum's house". Before the new owners take over tomorrow I could have gone there today and wandered around one last time, but it's too far and I've already walked out for the last time from my childhood home - more than once in fact. It's the place where my brother, sister and I grew up. It's a place of security and happy memories. It's the place where my father died, far too young at 55 years. It's the house my parents bought to provide a bigger place for their growing family. We saw it being built from its foundations. It's the place where I played French cricket at the bottom of the garden with my brother. It's the place where friends were welcome. In one sense I left 'home' at 18, returning in holidays during student days and then establishing my own home(s) in other places. It's the place where we 3 children regularly returned with spouses, children and eventually grandchildren.

Although I've been happy in many other homes since, there's a sense in which one particular house and garden has always represented 'home', even when I usually referred to it as "my parents' home" and then "my mother's home". My mother lived there until her 100th year. She died 6 months ago. I wrote a brief post about this in Death of a Mother. I've spent a lot of time at her home since she died while we organized the sale, sorted and emptied the house of its contents. Each time I left there were fewer things there, more difficult decisions taken and acted on, so each leaving was a stage in saying goodbye to the house and the lovely garden Mum created.

For the last weeks the place has been completely empty and now I really do have to let go. After tomorrow I will have no right to enter the property any more, nor will my brother or sister. I'm physically at home today, but in imagination I'm back in my childhood home, remembering every detail of how it was and is, who was there and who is no longer there. My sister, who lives near to it, made her last visit this morning for a final check before the new owners take over tomorrow, so I'm reassured that all is OK. She even cut back the Golden Rod that was encroaching on the drive, just as our mother regularly did at this time of year. All that is left for me to do is to put my copy of the front door key in the post, although no doubt the lock will soon be changed.

In grieving for my mother I realize that similar to a child with a 'transitional object' like a comfort blanket or teddy bear, her home is for me an adult equivalent of a transitional object. While letting go of it is not as painful as the sudden severance at the moment of her death I do feel an additional sense of loss which is stronger than I had expected. I am home. I am in a place where I feel loved and secure. And yet...it's hard to accept that from tomorrow I will never be able to "go home" again.



Image Credits: my own photos



Comments

  1. People say we shouldn't get attached to bricks and mortar, but a family home is so much more than that. It is a treasure house of shared and solitary memories, an integral part of our past. The framework upon which our youthful lives are built.
    Thanks for this lovely wistful post Nancy.
    Try not to feel too sad.
    Blessings.

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    1. An integral part not only of my youthful past but my very recent past and that of our children. It's not an unbearable sadness I feel - more of a wistful sadness, complicated of course by other griefs, not least because of the recent death of my mother and the long ago death of my father.

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  2. The older we grow, the more losses we have, accompanied with grief. In a sense, we never do really "get over" our grief, it resurfaces in many and varied ways throughout our lifetime. Here I'm reminded of an insight from Luther, who once said, to paraphrase him, the greatest love is love that is lost. I think that's one aspect of what the cross is about, both Jesus' and ours. May God's shalom be with you.

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    1. I do agree that we don't 'get over' grief. It's more a question of learning to live with the various losses we experience. That's an interesting insight from Martin Luther. I'd love to know the source - from a sermon or his writings? Peace be with you too.

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    2. It took me a bit of searching, but here's my reply. It's from his writings. Actually I discovered it in Anders Nygren's book, Agape and Eros, where he quotes Luther from the Weimar edition of his works. The quotations are too long to include them here, but if you have access to Nygren's book you can check them out on pp. 730-733, particularly the footnotes, which are quite lengthy.

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    3. Thank you so much for taking the trouble to look this up for me. I'm very grateful. I'm planning to do some more reading of Luther this winter. A recent brief visit to Wittenburg in Germany has inspired me to do so.

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  3. The comment about a 'transitional object' is something that is readily discerned. While I didn't have the luxury of a childhood home like yours, having spent time in care in Kent, I visited the place where I'd been relatively happy (even in care) when I moved nearby in the late 80's. Only to find that it'd all gone and been replaced by a housing estate. Even the parish church had been knocked down (apparently sinking foundations) and replaced with a modern, hexagonal monstrosity :( They'd even dug up the grave yard where Nuns and Children had been buried over nearly 100 years to build on it. All of those buried were reinterred in a communal grave.

    Somehow it felt like being robbed of the only bit of my childhood that I could describe as being relatively happy. It's amazing how children removed from their families by circumstances beyond their control and don't understand, adjust and cling together with their siblings against the world.

    Prayers for you as you grieve for the loss of both mother and childhood home. I'm consoled that I'll always have the memories. I hope that you are also consoled by that as well.

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    1. I'm not surprised that it felt like robbery to find that the one place where you had been relatively happy in childhood had been completely replaced. Thanks for your prayers. Good memories are a consolation.

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  4. You are wise to say a final goodbye to the house. I went back last year to the house in the New Forest that was built for my parents, designed by an architect cousin. I had left it when I was 12. I found it had tenants in it because the owner had plans to pull it down and build 2 on the site. Quite sensible but very distressing for me to think of my childhood home demolished. So wise to stay away and remember it in your dreams.

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    1. It must feel distressing to discover your childhood home demolished, especially if you were not expecting to see that. It's unlikely my mother's home will be demolished any time in my lifetime and I like what I've heard of the improvements the buyers are planning. I probably will see at least the outside again, perhaps when returning to visit the next door neighbours who were great friends of mum.

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  5. I really do sympathise, Nancy, as even after almost 30 years I still have very clear memories of being the executor for my mother's estate and selling her house, together with the garden she had created from part of a field. Thankfully my memories of many happy and secure years in that small house are still equally clear and very precious. Once the pain of her death has eased, I know your memories will be equally precious and surprisingly comforting.

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    1. Thanks Perpetua. Memories are precious and I am sure will go on being comforting - along with all those thousands of photos I have yet to sort!

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