I always loved going to garage sales. When I was younger and hadn’t lost any family members, I used to like having them, too. That has changed. I lost my brother twenty years ago, my mother-in-law almost ten years ago, and my father four years ago. So mixed among the usual clothes and CD’s, DVD’s and books were their clothes and other property. I kept my father’s office chair, the chair he sat in behind his desk, supporting our family. I kept all of his office items and papers, just because they held his handwriting. I kept the reclining chair from his home.
Since he died, I have pressed my face against the back of that chair where his head rested, against his clothes, and inhaled, hoping some odor is still caught in the fabric. My wife has done the same thing with her mother’s belongings, even her old cell phone. God in heaven, the desperation to be close to them again is overwhelming sometimes, or to just prove to ourselves that they existed. Because whatever it is that separates heaven and earth is thick and heavy and almost completely impenetrable.
There have been strange occurrences since my father died, like my toddler saying a word that identifies my father better than any other, just minutes after I prayed to him for a sign that he is free of the brain diseases that took his life. A shamrock appearing in a puddle under a trashcan after a similar prayer. (He was fiercely Irish.) Giving an old lady who missed her bus a ride on the first anniversary of his death and discovering that her destination was the very hospital where he died. Some people find pennies. Some feel like butterflies are the souls of passed loved ones. Maybe. But all these little messages, though better than nothing, are never enough when we need to hug them, touch them, hear their voices, see the love in their eyes again.
I haven’t been able to move on, not only because my dad died, but because of the way he died. Whittled away to nothing by Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia over five years, until he couldn’t remember who I was. He deserved better. Then there’s the anger at God for allowing all of it. I’ll never understand it no matter how agile the verbal gymnastics of stronger Christians is.
But I needed to move on so I put his old office chair out in the yard with everything else. I watched people walk away with his shirts, bought for a dollar each, as if that’s all they were worth. But I kept a few. The ones that hadn’t been washed before he died. There all I have left of him. But I put them in a box, out of sight, to be taken out again someday, years from now, or maybe tomorrow. I never know when I’ll need to, especially at night, when there are no distractions left to hide in.
And I suppose that’s grieving in a nutshell. We move on in little ways, in minuscule increments, until the loss becomes bearable. Nobody bought my father’s chair. It’s sitting in front of my house, at the curb, waiting for someone to take it for free. People driving by slow down and look at it, as if it were just a chair.
I understand now why people hire others to handle their estate sales. It’s bad enough to lose someone without haggling with deal-seekers over their property, too. Someone tried to talk me down on one of my father’s jackets and I felt like strangling him. But it wasn’t his fault. How could he know that jacket once held someone who was everything to me? How can anyone know the hurricanes that are raging in the hearts of strangers?