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Monday, September 11, 2006

Saying goodbye to home--the place of our lives

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

The girls made me put the hammock back up.

After all, swinging in the hammock was one of their most favorite things to do at grandma's and grandpa's house, and they didn't really understand that I had taken it down to pack for the move.

"Hammock, Grandpa," Lisa, 5, and Leia, 3-going-on-4, said, simultaneously pointing to where it was drying on the patio table after I had absentmindedly left it out in the rain. "I think it's still wet," I said, hoping that I wouldn't have to put it back up and go through the painful process of later taking it back down.

Taking it down was one of the harder things I've faced in the weeks before our move today from the house that my wife, Barb, and I had occupied--lived in--for the last 22 years. Like leaving my garden, where I work on my laptop on beautiful summer days, as I am now. From this shady spot I can admire my roses, phlox and lilies, tired from their summer-long combat with beetles and powdery mildew, but still bravely blooming.

I figured that I'd garden right up to the end, but a couple of weeks ago, I was out in the heat, pruning some bushes, and I thought, "Why?" Still, I couldn't resist; until the last, I'd pluck an infringing weed, prune a rogue crabapple sucker and give it all a final renewing fertilizing.

"What are you doing?" Barb would ask.

"Saying goodbye to my plants," I'd say. On my evening rounds, I'd think: This is the last time I'll see this hydrangea, or check the undersides of the burning bush leaves for aphids, or examine the progress of a seemingly suicidal hosta. At least I was around for the first yucca blossoms and the long-delayed coming of age of that red- and green-leafed ground cover of the forgotten name that's finally covering some ground. Each plant, shrub and tree is a friend who gets a final goodbye.

So does every ding, drip and blemish that I'll leave unrepaired inside the house. Maybe if I had just a few more days ...

The memories, though, I can take with. The holidays, the every days. The quarrels and making-ups. The happy surprises and disappointing discoveries. The joyful arrivals and sad departures. The prayers of thanks and seekings of forgiveness. The presence of kids' things; the absence of kids' things.

Here Kati and Don navigated the storms of adolescence, then left us empty when they set off for college--then returned, then left again. Here we celebrated two marriages and four granddaughters' births. Here Barb anguished that I--in the hospital's hands--wouldn't make it through the night. And I obsessed on how much I would hate this place without Barb, if she had lost her own fight.

This house, any house, is more than a physical presence where things happen. A life has to happen somewhere, and you might think that this anyplace would do just as well as any other place. But this is the place of our lives. That makes this a sanctified place, because some of what has happened here becomes, in some way, a part of this place. Something of it was left behind by the family that was here before us, and something will be left by the young family that follows. Different lives, same walls; new hopes, same windows through which young eyes will peer.

For now, for Lisa, Leia and Ava, their 2-year-old cousin, this house is grandma and grandpa. For them, it will always be a bridge to the past and loved ones gone. We've told them we're moving and showed them the new place. They can feed the ducks right outside the back door; there's a swimming pool nearby. There they'll create new memories, with their new 5-month-old cousin, Julia. Still, they seemed a little sad.

There are no trees at our new place spaced just right, like the two silver maples at the old place, for that handmade Guatemalan hammock, a loving gift to grandpa from their Uncle Don. So, after the girls asked, I put the hammock back up here for a final time, and I know that I'll have to take it down, again, for one last tearful time.

Leia's playing in it now, within my reach, and here comes Ava, just up from her nap, happily padding toward the hammock. "Grandpa!" squeals Leia. "Higher, Grandpa, higher!"

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune


Dan said...

What a great editorial. My family home is soon to be grandparents built it when they came here from Ireland, my mother and her brothers and sisters were raised there, after my grandparents passed away my mom & dad bought the house and raised my brothers and sisters and myself. A few years ago my brother and his wife bought the house and are raising thier 4 kids there. The nieghboorhood is changing and the house will all to soon have a sign in the front yard. Realizing how attached I had become to always having the ability to "go home" has brougt a few tears to my eyes. It seems that for most of my life that house has been the center of my life. As a family we have already planned to have a final photo taken in the front yard to preserve the memory of where 4 generations have lived, loved, laughed and cried.

Anne said...

Very nice column, one of many of yours I've enjoyed. Best of luck in your new home.

Anne Leary

Joy Loverde said...

Thank you, Dennis, for your article "Saying goodbye to home - the place of our lives." I especially loved how you openly expressed the sensitive nature of change and transition while interweaving the joys and pains of family life into every sentence.

Everyday, I help family members and their elderly loved ones move from the old to the next, and your thoughts will undoubedly console and validate many who are in the midst of the moving process.


Joy Loverde

Author of The Complete Eldercare Planner:
Where to Start, Questions to Ask, How to Find Help (Random House, second edition) as seen on the Today Show and Wall Street Journal