Written by Jami Spurling, LCSW
My grandfather passed away after Christmas in 2019. My grandmother, who had been his caretaker and right-hand gal while on hospice care, was moved to a rehabilitation and nursing center days before his funeral following a series of small strokes. Their farm, our extended family’s oasis, had already been sold but there was a short window of time to retrieve belongings we wanted and tidy up before the new owners moved in. Everyone was tired from the back and forth of events with both grandparents and the holidays. The familial glue that kept us all together had lost its hold.
My husband and I drove back to my grandparents’ farm in Missouri on a snowy weekend to pick up items I wanted: photo albums, a hand-carved wooden coffee table, trinkets from my grandmother’s travels, a mirror for my cousin out of town, and 3 small ice cream bowls that my grandfather shared his favorite Blue Bell vanilla in with his grandchildren. We were the only two people on the property. I loaded up boxes and walked through the house, remembering how the wood stove used to be roaring hot in the wintertime, glancing out the window where the weeping willow tree used to be, smiling at the memory of dressing up in my grandmother’s nightgown and high heels; all these memories coming out of the walls and up through the floors all around me. We walked around the house as I was trying to take everything in for the last time. I rode horses and go carts and bicycles here as a child. I played baseball and volleyball in the front field here as a child. I took walks to and from church here as a child. This place was where I felt connected to my childhood and to my grandparents. I began to cry, wondering if I would feel this connected to them in the future without this place being the conduit. The drive home to unpack my treasures was a blur, as was the actual unpacking. Over the next few days I felt a sense of unrest, thinking, “did I take enough things to help me remember them and their home”, “did I leave anything I may want later”. I made a few calls and got all the permissions necessary to go back to my grandparents’ home a weekend or two later to settle on 2 remaining things: a bookshelf and a clipping from a rose bush in my grandmother’s flower garden. Once I had these, I would feel whole. Books and flowers were the primary language my grandmother and I spoke to one another; we connected over these hobbies. We may not have read the same books or liked the same perennial, but we could elaborate together on authors, characters, watering and sunlight tips, or flowers with the best fragrance, and then more conversations would be born.
Thinking about the things I have in my home now that are transplants from my grandparents’ home, I call these things just that: things. Some are displayed and some are kept in closets. They hold value to me and trigger memories that I may have forgotten, but they are just things at the end of the day. I remember my grandparents most when I am reading a good book, or weeding my flower garden, or eating Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. I have come to be comfortable with the feeling that I do not need their home or their things to feel connected to them. I can see them in things all around me.