Just an innocuous armoir, right? That's the crazy thing about journeys: there are layers to each progression that only those who've been traveling with you can see. If only every step looked as simple and clean as it seems.
A little more background on me:
2019 was a stellar year for me. And by stellar, I mean it was a nightmare. My father had a stroke in April 2017 and my mother, who was a retired RN was his primary care taker. My father had been suffering from dementia and the stroke did not make anything better. If anything it excelerated the dementia and his ultimate decline. My mother, a very strong alpha female was determined to help my Dad recover, even if it meant sacrificing her life and her sanity. Careful for what you wish for, as they say. I believe my mother was so stressed out that she ended up having her own stroke in February 2019. As their only child, I had to catch everyone. So 2019 was fun!
To make a long story short, my mother survived her stroke and I moved her to an assisted living facility that specialized in dementia. She now has dementia due to her stroke. My father, unfortunately, didn't make it. Dementia and Alzheimer's are similar, except that one causes cells to deteriorate in the back of the brain while the other starts its damage in the front. With Dementia, the sign that you're going to succumb to the disease is when you lose your ability to swallow. Crazy, right? A tiny reflex that we all somehow seem to know how to do as infants is deadly if you forget how to do it. Thankfully, my parents had almost all their paperwork prepared. I just had to follow the paper trail to get their affairs in order. I cannot emphasize enough: get your affairs in order in a timely manner! I know it isn't pleasant but, oh my God does it make a difference when your beneficiary has to step in! Also, long term care insurance! My father made so many smart decisions and purchasing long term care insurance policies for himself and my mother saved us financially! This is how my mother can afford to live in her assisted living facility. Her insurance policy is for life and my family's estate is paying very little for her care. Her insurance policy is paying for 98% of her medical bills. As my mother's Power of Attorney, I now have to take care of her affairs and the house that she inherited from my father. Ever since I had moved out on my own, I could only afford to rent property. Since my mother could no longer live in her house, it just made economic and practical sense for me to move into my childhood home. That armoir in the picture was mine growing up and it is located in my childhood bedroom.
I'm starting to believe less and less in coincidences. I believe in energy work and that the universe (or God, if you will) is the one who is really in control of what's going on. I moved my boyfriend in with me when I moved back into my childhood home. The last thing I wanted was to be alone in this house with my parents' ghosts. A week after we moved into the house the US went into lockdown due to Covid-19. All of our jobs and activities went on hiatus. We went from having a relatively good balance of time together and apart to being together ALL. THE. TIME. Talk about an adjustment. However, it's almost been a year since we moved in and we're still kicking it together! Of course, this meant that the kiddos would be following suit and joining us in my house. The silver lining to my parents' health crisis was that they were able to give me a solid foundation to begin my own life with my blended family. The girls (the kids) were finally able to have their own rooms when they were with their dad. Before, everyone would pretty much pile on top of each other at Grandma's small house because that's where my boyfriend would spend his family time (he rented a room from a friend of ours, which wasn't exactly kid-friendly. So it was the wiser choice to spend his parental weekends at his mother's house).
The biggest challenge I have had in dealing with the aftermath of my parents' strokes, is having to go through their stuff. I cannot explain why, but the idea of going through their belongings is extremely unpleasant. It's okay when I finally get some momentum and am in the process of going through a room, but the idea of getting started on another room or closet feels so heavy. The mere thought of opening a door filled with my mother's things makes me feel like I'm wearing lead weights and walking through water. I have cleared out quite a bit of the house, but I think there's about 25% left to go. Before the girls could have their own rooms in my house, I had to clear things out. It's been a struggle. In March, a majority of my house was in upheaval. We had to pull everything out in order to sort through it. The upside of being in lockdown was that my boyfriend and I had the time to get the big things in order. Furniture pieces were moved around and sorted through, leaving us only half the house to move around in. I was able to comfortably have our 16 year old and 5 year old share the guest room, which sported a king size bed. By June, during a brief relaxation of Covid restrictions, we were able to throw out or donate a lot of items that freed up space and gave us the room to make the house more "us". At this point, it was decided that what was formally called the "guest room" would be our 16 year old's room. The bedroom that I grew up in, once it was cleaned out and re-painted, would be our 5 year old's room. My boyfriend and I moved into what was formerly my parents' room. December came around and the 5 year old started expressing impatience about wanting to be in her room. I was finally able to bring myself to work on it. In the interim, I kept both girls' clothes in my small walk-in closet (which was formerly my mother's). At the time it felt nice to have everyone's clothes in one place because it was comforting to have everyone together in the spaces that were livable. However, as the months passed, I noticed that the girls started to leave more and more of their belongings at my house. On one hand, it was thrilling to see that things were intentionally being left. I took this as signs that the girls were becoming increasingly comfortable with me and felt at home with me and their father. On the other hand, I was running out of room in my closet! As we went into the beginnings of 2021, I began having the itch to get the girls out! I will liken it to Empty Nest Syndrome - get out of my space and get into your own!!! By this point, it was the beginning of January and I had cleaned out my childhood bedroom enough to where our 5 year old could sleep in there by herself. She was ready! Her mother, #3 still lives with her parents. So my 5 year 0ld, her 10 year old brother and her mother live in one room together. This was the first time she got to be in her own room and she moved in without any hesitation! #3 and I were surprised and proud to see this independence coming from our daughter.
After cleaning out the room, the next project was my old armoire because I needed to get the girls out of my closet! The process of going through old clothes will never not be tedious. I am already so tired of going through the various rooms and spaces of this house and it does feel discouraging to know that I still have more to go. Perhaps those who have experienced the deaths of their loved ones can identify with me. The process isn't fun, but I know it has to be done. I do have the luxury of time so I am being gentle with myself and am attacking the remaining spaces when I can muster the energy. Now that the armoire is done, there are only two more desks and two more closets that need to be sorted and cleaned out. One of the desks is in my old room/my 5 year old's room. My dad had turned my childhood bedroom into his office so my old desk is filled with his things. The other desk was my mother's in the hallway. Death is really just an inconvenience for the living so if people could just stop dying, that'd be great!
Once my girls' clothes were in place in their armoire, I felt relief! Relief that progress was made, that I reclaimed space for myself in my closet and that I was able to give the girls their own spaces. While this is a step forward, it is temporary. One of the closets I still have to go through is in the 16 year old's room. Ideally, I'd like her to be able to keep her things in what is now her room. My progress is slow, but like my grief, it will move along at its own pace.
In the meantime, I will celebrate this small milestone: The girls are out of my closet!!!