I’ve been reading Alexander Levy’s The Orphaned Adult, trying to get a handle on my new status in the world. The most salient concept I’ve been reflecting on is the loss of home. That’s actually a difficult topic with my siblings and I right now.
What Levy is talking about is not a physical structure, but that feeling you get from your parents that you belong with them; that, no matter where they are, you are welcome, and feel welcome. No, more than welcome - there is a feeling many of us have when with our parents of truly knowing our place in the world. Where Mom and Dad were was home.
But, there is also the physical place and it is very important in our family. Dad was a bricklayer, and he built our house for his sweetheart, the love of his life, so they would have a nice place to raise their growing family. They chose plans from the Sears catalogue, bought a double parcel in a newly developing neighborhood on the edge of Lowell, and got to building. Dad worked on the house when he wasn’t working for a paycheck. They rented from my aunt, two houses down from the lot, so it was easy for him to walk over and get a few things done, easy for my then 7 year old brother and 5 year old sister to walk over and bring him a snack, or call him in for supper, or make a mess of their school clothes in the piles of dirt. There was one more little one at home, too small to toddle over, and one on the way (she was born 3 months before they moved in to the new house).
We all grew up in that brick ranch on the corner. I was born ten years after the house was built, the tenth child to grow up there. We had our pictures taken in front of the chimney that had an L bricked in it for Lamarre. We raked leaves off the back sidewalk where my mother had written “Pauline & Bob” before the cement dried. We became who we became within those brick walls. “A solid foundation is built brick by brick.”
Before Mom died, I thought that house would always mean the same thing to me. But, now that neither she nor Dad is in it, that house no longer feels like home. Sure, I know where everything is; everything looks familiar. But, when I walk through the front door, it is not as if I am coming home. It is as if I am visiting a cemetery plot. There is a connection to the name etched on to it, but the stone is cold.
And this is different than some of my siblings are feeling. Some of them want to keep gathering at the house. They feel our parents there; the place is still home to them. And, there’s the difficulty. One group of us is annoyed with the other for not feeling about the house the same way. For some of us the house is a place of sadness; it is empty of the force that made it home. For the others it still is home, a place not only of memory, but also of ongoing family connection.
This is going to be tough. How do we reconcile this difference? I haven’t hit a chapter in Levy’s book titled “How to tell your sister you don’t want to go over to the house you told her last year you would always love?” or “How long do we call it Mom’s house?”
My grief has been difficult to fully embrace because I have felt torn between wanting to follow my own changing views and not wanting to hurt my sisters’ feelings. But, I find myself feeling more and more sad. Worse, I find myself getting angry at those who don’t understand where I’m coming from.
This post is something of a ramble. I’ve been on something of a ramble since losing Dad more than two years ago and the path has completely meandered out of control since Mom died. I wish I could just settle into their house and carry on. But really, I don’t think they’d want me to. Despite the overwhelming number of us, our parents wanted each of the ten of us kids to follow our own path. They asked only that we be good, and that we stay connected.
I promise to stay connected. I’ll invite siblings, nieces and nephews over and accept invitations from them. And I won’t wait for holidays. But, I also won’t rely on the house which is no longer Mom and Dad’s.