May 1, 2020


How returning to my childhood home provided unexpected healing.

Last spring, I was mourning the loss of my mother. As I was learning to navigate the depth of my sorrow, I was also tending to my mother’s end-of-life affairs alongside my siblings. The thing I was least prepared for, once the funeral had come and gone, was the shock of losing my childhood home where my parents had lived together in Belleville, Illinois until my father’s death in 2015 and my mother’s death in 2019. The house was filled with memories, the prime example being the stairwell to the basement, which was wallpapered with photographs—school photos through the years of my siblings and I, then wedding photos. Eventually, grandchildren and great-grandchildren appeared on the walls.

To pack up each item that my mother had kept for one reason or another reminded me of the many ways she had been present for so many of us, not just in the home but in her community. She was always organizing class reunions and activities with childhood friends, or faithfully attending mass at her beloved cathedral. Packing up the house forced me to confront uncertainty about what my life would look like ahead. Up until that point, no matter what happened—loss, divorce, my daughters growing and leaving for college—there was always that house . . . and my mother in it. My brothers, sisters, and I removed the photos from the stairwell and filled a U-Haul with furniture to deliver to my mother’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren all over the country. We sold the house.

The nucleus of our family had shifted. A few weeks after the sale, I drove by the house. The flag that used to hang by the door was gone, as was the small iron chair that sat out front. The statue of St. Francis in the backyard where my mom once lovingly filled the bird feeder and left bread out for the squirrels was gone, too. Saying a final goodbye to the house was just another of the many ways I’ve had to learn to say goodbye to my parents. Before I drove away, I noticed toys belonging to a young child scattered about the yard. It was then I realized: life moves onward, and so do we. Some things aren’t quite lost, but transformed. I imagined laughter inside the house, now belonging to a new family, and was comforted. The house would have new life, and so would I. Things begin again.

Tracy Sanson

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