Much of the last 16 months has been spent on the closure of a life--the loose ends, as they say, that need to be tied. The majority of those ends were found flapping around in my dad's house. We're so close to finishing the place now that my giddiness resembles a guy who's about to swallow his first sword in public. Or I assume it resembles someone like that. I've never swallowed swords before, not in public or private.
Anyway, so I'm nervous. Every storm that hits, I'm praying the hail doesn't ruin the new roof. Every night I ask the Almighty to keep out the vandals. So far, the requests have been granted. I'm profoundly grateful because it's the succession of little things that still set me off: The paint lifting off the newly-whitened cabinets when low-tack tape was peeled off. The toilet that won't stop running because its new, pretty handle is too long in the back, so the lid hits it. The freakish amounts of corroded wires and rusty nails/screws/bolts/bitsofmetalthatcanbeweldedintosomethingamabob that he collected and I have NOT A CLUE how to deal with.
The list is longer, but items are best arranged in threes, so I'll cut the gripes short for now. You're most welcome.
But then there was the assurance I received from someone, the identity of whom I've thankfully forgotten, who spun this drawn-out phase of my life as an opportunity. One in which I can relive memories and grieve gradually and not process my father's memory as merely unfinished business. Good God, I wanted to shout. I don't need a dribbling water heater to remind me I love my dad and miss him. Even so, I had hoped this person would be right. I hoped it like I'd hope a blade wouldn't severe my larynx.
Now, granted, the house looks good. Homey, really; it's tidy and welcoming. I wish we'd had the money to do this for him when he was still around, and I suspect he would have been smitten by the house this way rather than merely resigned with his move from the country into the city. So while I'm satisfied with the result of our labors, the process hasn't really alleviated the grief as advertised. I realized this last evening when I was in my basement hiding from the most recent blast of storms. I took a good look around at the keepsakes and other stuff we've moved from his house. I also saw various maintenance issues with our own house that have gone untouched while we've been occupied elsewhere. And then I accidentally ran face-first into a bag of my dad's dirty laundry I had forgotten about.
And that bag is what made me cry. Grief is a damned sneaky sonuvabitch. I hadn't actually cried about him for maybe two months, I think. All those nuisances I mentioned above have exasperated me and worn me down, but they hadn't provoked me to tears. Not until I found the dirty laundry I had forgotten to wash, a lumpy reminder of my dereliction. An especially old loose end.
Before anyone tells me I'm being hard on myself, I know I'm not. I know this because I'm not blaming myself for not having washed the clothes. I'm just shocked I'd forgotten about them, that they'd been hanging there all this time. I was shocked all over again that I had been living and breathing--and sleeping--in a house in which a parent of mine left this world and I didn't know when it had happened. The hospice nurse had to be wake me up and tell me.
Grief waits around while we put the finishing touches on his house. That place is mere unfinished business because I never had much of an emotional attachment to it. I had more of an attachment to the stuff we took out of it, some of which we've kept. The boxes still wait for me to sort through them more thoughtfully, but the benumbing to-do list over at Dad's house has been taking fist priority. Not for much longer, I'm afraid.
For some things we have to go through, there isn't really a positive spin. Other than a very, very, very long term one. A twisting within ourselves that can make us more careful with others' grief when it's their turn. I know, here I go making a moral of the story. Please, control your gag reflex. My only defense is a deep-seated need to salvage something out of a wreckage. I got it from a man who kept every damn rusty nail he encountered.