November was a stressed and hectic month in the family. My mother had a long-overdue knee replacement early in the month, and the triple whammy of major surgery, great pain, and dementia took a toll on all of us, but especially my father. While he was relieved of the 24/7 duty of steering my mom through the day, he all the same spent a huge number of hours by her side as without him to interpret the world for her, she is increasingly lost as to day, time, conversations, and events.
One day early in the nursing home stay, my dad and I went room to room in the upstairs of their house looking for a sewing box that is apparently non-existent now. (And where is the button tin, I wonder?) We opened countless dressers and bureaus looking for the safety pins I had hoped to find in the sewing box.
We never found the pins. But we did find drawer after drawer of abandoned projects: plastic canvas and yarns, aging sewing patterns, brightly colored material that may have been meant for a quilt. Dad quietly observed that my mother would never finish these now and I was almost tempted to offer to clear them all away, but wisely kept my mouth shut.
As we finished opening and searching the last drawer, Dad commented that he had an upstairs "full of old furniture." He's right. One room contains a stout bureau, stripped and refinished, that in my childhood had been a battered glossy white with a Roy Rogers decal on the top drawer right between the two pulls. Then there is the bureau at the top of the stairs, with drawers ranging from shallow at the top to deeper at the bottom on the left half, the right side being a door that swings open to reveal a large storage area without shelves or divisions. It is a dark piece and the wood of the door is very thin. When I was young, my mother stored flannel sheets and blankets on the right side.
I always liked that piece of furniture. There would have been a time in my life when I would have loved to have had that piece in my own home for sentimental reasons. But none of the furniture was ever proffered to any of us and it has all set in the empty upstairs for long years.
And now I am of an age and at a place in life when acquiring furniture, even childhood pieces, holds no appeal for me. I want less stuff, not more. I cannot imagine passing these pieces on to my children. In addition to the cost and risk of shipping them west, these pieces hold no emotional weight for Ben or Sam because they didn't grow up with them like I did.
I do not know how much longer my parents will remain in the house. It is a large, old, limestone structure, the second floor and basement out of reach of my mom, the bathroom a tiny, narrow add-on long after the original house was built. When they bought it in 1970, both my parents were in their 30s, with younger children, plenty of energy, and lots of dreams. That was almost 45 years ago. Now it is obvious that the house was not built for an elderly couple, one of whom has mobility problems. Dad has observed more than once that the house and yard (an acre) and outbuildings are increasingly more than he has the time and strength to tackle on a daily basis. Time, especially as my mother's needs grow, will be at an even greater premium than it already is, and the deep reserves of energy and plans my parents both once possessed have long been spent.
And when my parents do leave the house? There'll be an upstairs full of old furniture along with everything else: abandoned crafts and abandoned dreams, old blankets and old photographs, and the faint whisper of memories.