Goodbye House, Goodbye Dad

processing grief

Cynthia’s dad, Norman, surrounded by his family in the family home.

by Cynthia Greb

A part of me doesn’t want to write this. I don’t want to revisit my grief. And, I also want to write this while the memories are still somewhat fresh.

Six weeks ago I temporarily moved into the room I had lived in as a teenager. It was the family home, although my family no longer lived there. The kids were all grown and my parents had both recently moved into a nursing home — my father because of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and my mother because there was no longer money for the caregivers we’d hired to assist her.

My home was in Colorado, but I was back in Pennsylvania to spend time with both of my parents and to sell, sort through, and dispose of all the remaining family possessions so that the bank could take possession of the family home. No, it wasn’t a case of foreclosure; it was because we’d had to get a reverse mortgage to pay for my parents’ care. And with them no longer at home, the house had to go to the bank. To say it was a time of great change for the Greb family would be an understatement.

So, I walked in the front door loaded down with my luggage. And I gazed around in shock. My siblings had told me about the pipe that had burst about two weeks before. Apparently the thermostat had been set at about 50 degrees, but one particular bedroom hung over an open porch and I guess the radiator pipes couldn’t hold up to the record cold temperatures.

Large sections of hard wood floor had been pulled up. Insulation had been ripped out. Drywall had been torn down. Rusty looking stains ran down the hall walls. Wainscoting had been removed. One closet had been completely ruined. Furniture and other items had been moved from the damaged areas and stuffed into adjacent rooms. There was a layer of dust everywhere from the work my brother and the clean-up crew had begun. Several fans were going and the living room still smelled of mold and mildew. It was a large house and it looked like a good third of it had been ruined. And the rest of it was looking none too good either.

Stunned, I went about putting my things away and then I searched for one room of the house that was still clean enough to support an altar for my daily meditations. I settled on the piano room. I set up a card table and covered it with a beautiful scarf. I placed some sacred items upon the cloth, found a candle, pulled up a chair, and lit the candle.

As I sat before the flame, breathing, I became aware of how sad I was. I felt stunned by the devastation around me. I decided to talk out loud to the house. What the heck; I was all alone. Why not?

Within a few minutes my one-sided conversation had turned into a song. I was singing to the house when a thought popped into my head. Our house was sad. It had burst into tears because everyone was suddenly gone and it lay empty. Its tears had flooded the house.

My song turned into a lament. I keened and keened, filled with sorrow for this poor house. This dear house had been so lovingly built by my father’s own hands when his burgeoning family had outgrown the small one-story house we’d grown up in. This house had once been filled with my parents, my three siblings, and then a fourth sibling — my youngest brother, newly born to my mother when she was forty years old and we had just moved into the house.

It had been the family home for forty years. It had seen thousands of meals served, scores of holidays celebrated, and parties and picnics hosted. It had heard the laughter and conversation of friends, relatives, and visitors. There had been the pitter-patter of a dog, several cats, six grandchildren, and one great grandchild. Later, after the last of the children and one foster child had moved out, it had held a rotating roster of boarders, visiting adult children, grandchildren who needed a place to stay, children who were having temporary marital or financial problems, and eventually, caregivers who became an integral and loving part of the family system. So much life! So much love! So much laughter! And suddenly, all of it was gone.

When Mom moved into the nursing home, the house was suddenly empty. There was no more husband and wife in the home, no more visiting children or grandchildren, no more friends, no more caregivers, no more love and laughter. And no one had said goodbye to this dear house. No one had said thank you. The house no longer had a purpose to serve. It was still holding possessions, but all the life was gone from it.

I wailed. No one was home so I could be as loud as I needed to be. I cried and cried and cried. I cried for the house that no longer felt like a home. I cried for all the changes. I cried that we would no longer have a family home to gather in. I cried for my mother who was no longer in the home in which she had raised her five children and found her purpose for living. And I cried especially for my father because I knew he was dying.

My poor father. He had begged us to keep this home in the family. He wanted it to be available for the grandchildren or for anyone in the family who would ever need a place to stay. And now, not only could we not honor his request, but he himself was no longer here in this home. He was in a bed, in a nursing home, asleep more than awake, barely eating, getting more and more gaunt, speaking less and less, and suffering the indignities of all elders who have to depend on others to take care of their most basic needs. My poor, dear, wonderful father.

Dad died thirty hours later.

I hadn’t expected him to die then. I knew he was headed in that direction, but none of us expected him to die that weekend.

Maybe my unexpected outpouring of grief helped me to release him. Just like the house’s “tears” helped to release my own.

I have had so many blessings in my life it would be difficult to count them all. Living in that home with a family that loved one another was certainly a very big one. Being raised by good parents was a huge one. Having a father who worked so hard but so willingly, who loved so unabashedly, who laughed and played and prayed with equal abandon, is absolutely a blessing beyond compare.

Goodbye, House. Goodbye, Dad. I love you.

Cynthia Greb is a writer, artist and pet sitter who lives in Crestone, Colorado. She wrote this blog and posted it on her WordPress site in April 2014.

6 Responses to “Goodbye House, Goodbye Dad”

  1. Maryam says:

    Dear Ms Greb,
    Your true story was truly touching and sad. It brought a grave sadness to my heart and my eyes welled up.
    I am so sorry for your losses:dad,house and the memories that hopefully will stay in your heart.

  2. Lorrie Cahill says:

    Like Maryam. I too was touched by your story. At the same time I’m happy you
    Had such wonderful times with your family. Beautiful treasures indeed. I am mother, grandmother and great grandmother and hope my sons can say I did well for them with what I had. God bless you for sharing. Your parents are proud of you!

  3. Donna M says:

    Thank you for sharing your story…I too am living in the house I grew up Mom in an Alzheimers Center and my Dad gone. It is lonely and sad. Such emptiness where there was so much laughter and love. It is just a house…not a home. Grief has so many layers and this is just one of them, that many of us must walk through. It is a reminder that our lives and memories are worth more than material posessions. Our parents love and care will remain when all else is gone. I so appreciate your openness about this…

  4. Maggie B says:

    My husband’s family also faced the issue of what their father wanted done with the family home after he died (their mother was already gone). Some thought he was “passionate” about keeping it in the family, others believed it was only a fond hope of his that it would stay in the family. I understand the attachment to the home their parents built and that they were all raised in, but my argument was that the people who made that house what it was are gone. That wonderful home now lives only in their memories; it will never be the same again. It was time to grieve all the losses and move on. Fortunately, one family memory finally was able to purchase it but the bitter differences of opinion have left permanent scars in family relationships. How sad.

  5. Laura says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, I my self has almost the same story! My dad is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s and often ask to go home to the house he raised 4 children in. Mom still lives at home, but it’s such a struggle! Your story touch me so much, thank you! I just spent 10 day with them and it breaks my heart that some day the home I grew up in will go back to the bank!

  6. Laurel Cole says:

    Hello, I saw your name on FB and my husband and I have known “Grebs” from Washingtonville NY for 50 yrs. The father was George and his kids are Leland, Peter Hank and Guy and Karen. Are you related? Thank you and I enjoyed your blog!