My dad recently passed away and my brother and I have heard this question a lot lately. A LOT. It’s usually followed by an expression of sympathy and how much they loved our dad, and our parents in general. Add in that our family business is real estate and the question becomes even more weighted.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not offended by the question. It’s just that I felt like Wile E. Coyote when the Roadrunner would drop a 500lb weight on him from atop a cliff every time I heard it. It’s overwhelming when someone you love dies. It’s even more overwhelming when it’s a parent, especially the last surviving parent. All their “stuff” – good and bad – becomes your responsibility to take care of and integrate into the “stuff” in your life. Cue the cartoon sound effects: Beep..Beep…BOOM!
In our case we have our parents home and both our grandparents homes. The home of our maternal grandparents is currently being rented. My brother is used to being a landlord, I am not. It also means my brother and I are now business partners - think Oscar and Felix in the “Odd Couple”. My brother is way more entertaining than Oscar.
Our paternal grandparents home is currently occupied by an estranged and deranged aunt-in-law (not sure if this is a an actual term) who inhabited the house the day our last surviving grandparent passed and hasn’t left yet. That whole situation will most likely end like the Waco standoff. This definitely falls under the “bad stuff” category that my brother and I must take care of now.
The focus is on our parent’s home, our childhood home, which was built next door to our paternal grandparents home on about 4 acres. Let me connect the dots – our parent’s home is next door to the home where the estranged/deranged aunt-in-law is living. Awkward.
We are the third generation on this land that my grandfather purchased shortly after settling here from Virginia. He was the Fire Chief when he moved from the “city” to the “country”. He used mostly reclaimed wood to built his home and several of the firemen under his command helped to build the home. Architecturally, it’s very different than other homes in the area as he brought some of the influence of courtyards, arches and verandas with him from Virginia. It’s my style of home and I love it. My grandparents divided the land (figuratively) and my parents built their home next door.
When thinking about “what are you going to do with the house?” my first reaction was to do a before/after series as my brother and I restore and update our parent’s home and the surrounding land. Then I started thinking about what our parents “before/after” photos would look like. What photo represented their best selves as a couple and parents? It would be hard to choose just one. They were a fun, vibrant couple and wonderful parents. What would their “after” photo look like after disease and illness robbed them of that vibrancy? They would be the exact opposite of a typical “before/after” sequence.
Home maintenance got postponed while dad took care of mom on a day-to-day basis during her prolonged illness. Both our parents put family first. However, after my mother’s passing, dad was even more focused on spending time together as a family and preserving old memories while making new. He did enough maintenance to get by, but he spent most of his time in Indianapolis with my brother and me.
I decided against doing a “before/after” series since the reason the home and land needs some TLC is because my parents had their priorities right and spent time on things that truly mattered and made their lives well lived and their funerals well attended by all those who loved them.
So, “What are you going to do with the house?” We’re going to restore it to the beautiful home and piece of land that it was when we were growing up. This is the best way to honor our parents who opened their home and hearts to so many.
What is the house going to do with us? It’s going to help us heal, one room at a time, one acre at a time, one memory at a time.
Hopefully, that will be enough….for both the house and us.
Photo Courtesy of Annie Spratt