the whole package…

When we moved into this little lakeside cottage those three years ago, we questioned how the padding feet, laughter, and voices of visiting loved ones would fit. We didn’t know, as we unpacked boxes and found creative ways to make this space our own, that those were questions we wouldn’t have to worry about. With one tumultuous Christmas and several months unraveling beyond that, this family size would shrink. No more little bare feet mornings or laughter-filled family moments.

Woven throughout the unfolding of three years, this space has become so much a home. A home shared because within its walls dreams have come true and lives have been lived. I think back to the two people we were that day, tired from driving and anxious about life. I think of who we are today–stronger, confident, capable.

Even with the unraveling of a family and over half of our time here being consumed by a pandemic, we’ve had so many loved ones in this home. We’ve had friends and relatives fly out to visit, friends drive over from the west coast… We’ve held wine nights in our sunroom, movie nights in our yard, and game nights around our table. We’ve created space here, with new people. Around candlelight, women have confessed struggles, meditated, told embarrassing stories, and connected.

Nearly from day one, we’ve had to consider the possibility of my mother joining us here. With advanced Alzheimer’s and wheelchair-bound, this small, cozy space was not a fit for her. The conversations went round and round during the intense seasons of legal battles, as we tried to think of how it could possibly work if it had to.

It couldn’t.

As impossible as it would have been, a secret part of me deep inside may have wanted her here. I wanted to hold her hand and love her without facility walls. I wanted to brush her hair and put her to bed. I wanted to play her favorite records and make her favorite soups. I wanted her to remember a home.

This afternoon a delivery man pounded on my front door, despite the sign urging him to go around the corner the door we actually use. I moved furniture to carve a path to get to him. I knew he wouldn’t wait.

I knew why he was here.

He came to bring my mother… to bring her home. Not to any place she’d ever laid eyes on, but this space is a home (and one that I deeply love) all the same.

Work had been busy, so it was a slow cooker dinner consisting of chicken and pasta. He and I sat across from one another as we ate. Conversation danced around the overwhelming reality that my mother sat there too, neatly tucked into a box stamped CREMATED REMAINS on every inch of available space. It is a strange thing to hold the hand of someone breathing, and then moments later bathe them in your tears because they no longer are. It is entirely another thing to hold them, dressed in cardboard and postage, one week later.

I remember her struggling to breathe, fighting for her life while also fighting to die.

I remember her months back, trying to place how she knew me, and giggling like a child at my jokes.

I remember her one year ago, finally able to have visitors, even if it was on the other side of a COVID SAFETY tent. Her there–present, happy, and all too aware of the fact that I was recording the visit. I knew I’d want it someday. Now that I do, I struggle to find it.

I remember her many years ago… hours of Triple Yahtzee, Dr. Pepper, old stories, and jokes.

I remember her when I was small enough to pick up. I remember the “fun mom” who’d pull me from my bed at 2 a.m. so she could teach me how to bop to old Sha Na Na records.

And now I remember her in a box I haven’t quite found the strength to open yet. A box that claims to weigh only six pounds but feels like it holds the weight of the world.

Within the walls of this house there has been so much loss. Beneath this cottage roof rest the ashes of my parents now. Lining the stairway walls live photos that haunt me of a family that is no more. Even with that sadness though, these walls have held the best and most beautiful bits of life–bits of US. Us traveling this gypsy path of life together, dreaming in unison and also supporting one another fervently as we carry out solo dreams of our own…