I spent last weekend at my dad’s house – the house that we moved into when I was nine years old, and that for me defines the word “home” when you talk about going home for the holidays.

The main reason for the visit was to help celebrate my nephew’s 13th birthday on Saturday, and to attend the rock concert he was performing in that same day. He’s been taking guitar lessons for about four years, and every three or four months, the school arranges concerts so that students not only learn to play an instrument, they get real-life stage experience in front of audiences that include people other than just their parents and grandparents. I had a great time at the concert, and my nephew was in the set that featured Beatles Number One hits, which made it even better.

Although Saturday was for celebrating, that wasn’t the only reason for our visit, and the rest of the weekend was more sad and somber. This was the first visit back to my dad’s house since his funeral a few weeks ago, and my sisters and I have started the process of going through fifty years’ worth of memories and memorabilia, as well as clothing, furnishings, and paperwork.

Our weekend included visits and appointments with bankers, realtors, and my dad’s tax accountant, as well as time spent going through each room in the house – sorting, organizing, and determining which items each of us might want to have, and what to do with everything else. We tried to separate the trash from the treasures, and to figure out what to keep, what to sell, what to give away or donate, and what to toss.

It was a difficult and emotional job, but we tried to lighten it up whenever we could. We watched some of the Olympics while we folded and packed up bags of clothing for Goodwill. And we joked, as we started in on each new room or closet, about whether this might be where we would find the lottery ticket worth a million bucks, or a dusty painting that would turn out to be a Rembrandt or Monet.

Mostly, though, we just worked quietly, sorting through things as quickly and efficiently as we could, stopping every so often – very often, actually – when we came upon something that triggered a special memory or brought some fuzzy, distant aspect of our family’s history clearly and brightly into focus. I spent a little extra time going through the cards and photos from the surprise party we threw for my dad on his 75th birthday, and whenever I found anything related to my mom, who died more than 40 years ago.

We got a lot done in the three days we spent going through the house, but there’s more to be done. Some tasks we can do from a distance, such as making certain decisions and arrangements, but some will require additional time at my dad’s house.

I still feel his presence when I’m there. It’s a feeling that’s both joyful and sad, and it’s something I’m not quite ready to give up. I’ve always had a hard time letting go and saying goodbye, and this is one of the most difficult ones of my life.

I know this is what most people go through when they have to let go not only of a loved one, but of a place that’s been home for many, many years. I also know that death is part of life, that our houses – as well as our bodies – are only temporary living quarters, and that it’s our memories, not our possessions, that are our greatest treasures.

I’ll be making a few more trips to my dad’s house before we get everything settled and finished. I’m guessing that each trip will be a little easier in some ways and more difficult in others, and also that I’ll always think of it as “Dad’s house,” no matter who else might be living there.
I’m sure that as I finally let go of the house and all its connections to my dad, I’ll be able to hold on even more to the memories I have of him. And I know those thoughts will always take me home.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on February 27, 2014.
©Betty Liedtke, 2014

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