A friend’s elderly mother unexpectedly died. My friend is the only other person I know who lived in her mother’s house. It was a bond, a commonality, that is broken now, and I feel the loss. Her mother died well, two days after making marmalade, with time to say goodbye. I want that for my mother, but it’s already too late: she is no longer able to make marmalade, or live her best life.
I woke to that news one morning last week, then fell apart in the shower. The water rained over me, mingling with my tears. I can’t imagine this house without my mother in it. I don’t know if it will be an exaltation of space or a vault of emptiness. I can’t imagine that it will ever come to pass. She will always and forever be here. And that may be true even after she’s physically gone. Sometimes my body remembers having my own home—being a grown-up—and it feels so different here in my mother’s house. When she’s gone, I won’t have that jubilant feeling of “this is mine, I made this happen,” as I did in my own new home. It will always be my parents’ house, and I will be a squatter as long as I stay here.
This week, under the Seattle sun, baby Adrian and I walk the 15 blocks to pick up three-year-old Elliot from day care. Elliot sticks close to me on the walk home, holding my hand while I push the stroller one-handed, until we cross the last street and he is on his home block. He trots ahead of me then, arms swinging, head swiveling left and right as he takes in his surroundings. If he could, I think he would whistle. He turns into his driveway, well ahead of his brother and me, yelling, “Mommy! Mama!” hoping they are home from work. He knows his familiar. He knows where he is safe.
The day after I return from Seattle, Mt. St. Helens at the edge of the huge blue sky is visible from the windows across the front of the house—all the windows since I had the branches of Mama Fir trimmed up [after Mama moved to assisted living], a sixty-fifth birthday gift to myself. I track an eagle floating on the breeze from one end of the valley to the other. This spot on the earth is my familiar now. Maybe it has become home, my safe place like Elliot’s.
I don’t know how long I will stay here when my mother is gone—and it isn’t entirely up to me since I’ll share ownership of the house with my sisters—but I want to stay long enough for the next generation to remember it, to consider it their ancestral home as I do my father’s childhood home in Michigan. That familiar place, with my uncle’s recent death, no longer belongs to the family after more than 100 years. That my four grandchildren be able to tell the story of those who lived here to their children when I’m gone is suddenly of utmost importance to me. If that means living for a few more years in a place that will never be my own, and spending more time and energy than I would like to maintain it, so be it.