It’s About Time
My husband and I devoted our weekend to completing the task of going through my late father-in-law’s effects. This is an endeavor we have undertaken in fits and starts over the two years since Papa’s death. Papa lived with us for eight years and, aside from the emotional stress of poring through his memorabilia, taking the physical remains of a loved one’s life and boxing them up and/or giving them away takes its toll.
Papa’s rooms were in our basement. We’ll label the apartment as an “in-law suite” when we sell our house some years from now, but we never thought of it that way when Papa was alive. To us it was “Papa’s space,” and he would joke that he was retreating to his “cave” because he lived downstairs.
One day I entered his room for a visit and found him seated in his recliner with the television muted. He looked up at me, his eyes owlish behind the thick lenses of his glasses, and he said, “Hi-ya, honey. You know, I was just sitting here thinking that you and Joe have made me a very comfortable little nest down here, and about how lucky I am.”
Yes, I got teary-eyed. I gave him a hug and told him we were lucky to have him, and I meant it.
After Papa died his absence was a black hole that sucked us into emotional distress. We kept the door to his room closed rather than see proof of his physical absence every time we went downstairs. Over time, we put on our grown-up britches and bit by painful bit went through the closets and cubbies and shelves; smiled and cried and remembered him as we boxed things and formed piles to keep or give away. Papa would have endorsed the giveaway pile as he was generous in the extreme, a strong supporter of causes like Food for the Poor and Disabled American Veterans, and a devout tither at his church. Week after week, month after month, Papa’s space became something else, a hybrid area that belonged to him no longer, but not yet to us. We made use of the space as a work area for our youngest daughter, an art student, and watched the sodas in the fridge and snacks in the pantry dwindle over time. Still, the walls held artwork Papa had hung, the shelves contained knick-knacks from his world travels that we had yet to touch.
Then came last weekend. It was time.
Joe and I shuffled downstairs to do what needed to be done. We had, of course, given our kids and others who loved Papa the opportunity to poke through the trinkets and choose mementos for themselves. But two years had passed and the room was still full of Papa’s treasures, items from China, Japan, Australia, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, England, New Zealand, Egypt, Turkey, Italy, Portugal, Russia and more—he’d been everywhere with the exception of Machu Picchu, his one regret (“I waited too long,” he said in his mid-80s. “At my age I’ll never be able to handle the altitude.”)
And so began the process of going through the last of Papa’s things. In the middle of it all, our daughter and her boyfriend wandered in, and then our other daughter, and the next thing we knew half the stuff had found a home. Items avoided for the last two years drew renewed attention, and memories flowed. Talk of Papa brought tears, but also laughter and delight in remembering him and what he meant to us.
What a difference time made. None of us was ready for this emotional baring two years ago, but the distance of time eased the process of going through the bits and pieces of Papa’s life to claim those treasures of his that are now treasures of ours. Time allowed our perspective to change. We don’t miss Papa any less, but we’re ready now to let him go.
From somewhere in heaven I imagine he watched over us the other day, his hands in the pockets of his loose-fitting jeans with his trademark suspenders ensuring his modesty, and before he set off on his most impressive journey yet, he smiled down at us with a combination of amusement and affection and said, “Sheesh! It’s about time, you guys.”
It’s about Time, indeed.
See you next week for more of the naked truth.
Enjoy your Wednesday, Buttercup —