The first weekend in December was an incredibly difficult weekend. My Grandma Carmichael held an estate sale to get her house ready to sell. She had lived in that house for about 50 years, spending most of her married life in it. She and grandpa had helped design the house and it was lovely. There is a porch between the carport and the house that has a roof and skylight so that you can sit outside in the middle of Tusconian summers and be comfortable. It had orange trees, a pecan tree and a "fruit salad tree", producing grapefruit, oranges and lemons. She hadn't been living in it quite a while, having moved to retirement housing five years ago after her house was robbed. She had been renting it at "blessing rates" to help missionaries and others who needed low cost housing. The problem is that renters don't treat a house as their own and renting tends to be more trouble than any money generated. As much as she hated to do it, she knew that it was time to let go.
The sale was a success in that she made money and almost everything was sold. She had done most of the work preparing for the sale, pulling things down from the walls and out of closets and cupboards, pricing them, letting friends and family chose from her stuff weeks before the event as a blessing. I had gone down for a day before we left for Thanksgiving to grab things she had made, like quilts and afghans and a few pictures, as well as some stuff for the patio. I also decided to take the china that belonged to her mother, wanting to keep it in the family as long as possible. I asked her at the time how she was coping with it all. I think at the time, she was too busy pricing things to have it really absorb. The day of the sale arrived with a threat of rain coming down all day, though it stopped by mid-morning. We set everything up in the carport, the porch and opened up the dining room where most of the furniture, pictures and linens were kept. Within minutes of putting up the signs, even before she had returned, people were coming up to the house checking out the stuff. There were hagglers and stragglers and browsers for two days. I think then, it must have really started to hit her because, for the first time in my life, I saw her get REALLY upset about some things. I was getting upset because my kids were in one room doing some school and watching movies and people were going beyond the boundaries of where things were and poking into all rooms. One lady emerged from a bathroom where we stashed anything we didn't want to sell clutching a quilt my grandma made asking what it cost. She seemed upset when we told her nothing in the bathroom was for sale. I had to put up signs telling people that nothing in the kitchen was for sale and to keep out of the rooms where we had things. The hardest thing to see sold was my grandmother's bedroom set, the one that she and grandpa had shared during their 50 year marriage. It sold for far less than the worth of the memories.
Before I left town to return to Phoenix, I stopped by to see my other grandmother, Nana, living in a nursing home and slowly succumbing to Alzheimers. My favorite time to see her is actually in the afternoon, when she is in her bed flitting between sleep and consciousness, when we can have "conversations" uninterrupted by other Alzheimer's patients. With her sunken cheeks and toothless smile and wispy white hair surrounding her face, she reminds me more and more of a female version of the old man who cleaned up Woody in "Toy Story 2" and who also played chess against himself to win back his dentures in a Pixar short. She no longer speaks coherently, though there have been times when I believe that she has understood what I said but replied in a new language created by Alzheimers. Each time I visit, I mention people she should know to see if there is any sign of remembrance. Her eyes still lit up when I talked about her mother and dad, whom I remember from my childhood. They lit up when I talked about my mother. But I remember when those eyes used to twinkle and dance with mischief and joy, not dully shine through age-glazed eyes. I showed her pictures of my kids on my iPhone and she watched, entranced, though I doubt she knew who they were. She got confused when I started talking about my husband, Eric, because her memory is of my cousin, Aric, who died many years ago as a young man. She started talking in her new language and out of the jumble of words, there were a few that seemed to indicate that she remembered him and that he had died. I showed her a picture of my Eric on my iPhone and told her that this was to whom I referred and watched the light in her eye dim with ignorance, even though she had attended our wedding and held several of our kids in her arms back when her mind was (nearly) whole. Each time I visit, I make sure to tell her how much I love her and miss her and how I will see her soon. Saying good-bye is especially tough because I don't know when or if I will get the chance to see her again. The one wry comfort I had as I left was that she was probably going to forget I existed within moments of leaving her, cutting the pain of "good-byes" short, at least for her.
As I left, I realized that, as hard as it is to let go of houses filled with memories, it is even harder to let go of the people who filled them. My time with both grandmas is much shorter now than when I was a young, single woman or even an older, married woman. Nana is literally living on borrowed time with an anuerism in her aorta that was supposed to have killed her three years ago. I even see my other grandma slowing down as she approaches 83 years of life. I know that I am not the only one going through this process of letting go and I know that I will most likely have to go through it again with my own parents and my in-laws in another twenty years. The really good news in all of this, however, is bound up in the current season--Christmas. It is a time when God initiated his last covenant, which would undo the death and decay ushered in by sin from the time it started in Adam and Eve and it started with a baby--new life to bring us new life.
" Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ's sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It's because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God." 1 Peter 1:18-21 (The Message)