Monday, June 27, 2011


We are finally finished cleaning out my dad's place. It's been a heavy load, emotionally and physically. So much stuff in a two-bedroom apartment, so much discovered about him that I never knew, so much wrestling with grief and acceptance that I will never see him again.

One of the hardest parts of dealing with a parent's death is realizing that there are all these things you never thought to ask about. I unearthed hundreds of old letters and holiday cards from people I didn't know, wry letters from pals and sweet letters from old girlfriends. I asked my mom about one woman who seems to have been her predecessor. "She didn't smell good," was all she had to say (clearly not the most objective source).

My dad lived in that apartment for decades. He was there with his parents and when they died and he and my mom married, she moved in. There was a ton of memorabilia: my dad's grade-school notebooks and yearbooks, old ice-skates (two pairs), countless family photos, Life magazines from the 1920s and 1930s, his collection of hotel bar soaps (not nearly as fascinating as his collection of bread bag tags), slides and maps from his travels around the world. The life he had before me. It was particularly painful to see the photos of him as a child, looking so eager and ready to take on the world, and to read the "Bob, you're a great guy!" inscriptions in his college yearbook.

We donated dozens of bags of unworn clothes and unworn shoes to a charity and homeless shelter. We gave furniture to Goodwill. We hired someone to haul away an entire truckload of trash. We brought his stamp collection and boxes of mementos to my house.

Now that it's done, I'm relieved, but at times my heart literally hurts from sadness. My father died in March. Now his apartment is empty, and all that remains is memories and the boxes neatly piled up in my basement. And they just don't feel like enough. 


  1. Ok, I have managed to stop crying. I feel exactly the same way - it's almost as if there was a whole part of him that we really didn't know and I wish he could have been there with us while we were going through his things to give us some background, but at the same time, he probably would have been telling us not to get rid of any of it!!!

    But, we do have some really great memories of him and what a devoted father he was to us and hopefully that will help ease the pain a little.

  2. Oh Ellen! My heart hurts for you. Sending cyber hugs your way.

  3. You have my sympathy.
    Both my parents are alive and I find it hard to imagine how I'll feel when the time comes.

  4. Ellen, I remember your dad as such a sweet soul.. It has been 15years since my Dad passed, each day is a reminder of how lucky I was to have him. The days are fun to talk about him and his ways. I get sad thinking of how much he has missed in my life. My wedding, the birth of my children, but then I know how lucky I am to have him watching over us. Its funny how much you appreciate you parents when you get older. I wish each day that I just had one more day. It never gets easier... But smiles come from memories soon instead of tears.
    Sondra (Ginberg)Whalen

  5. "all that remains is memories and the boxes neatly piled up in my basement. And they just don't feel like enough."

    My dad died four years ago. This phrase you wrote, it's perfect. I couldn't put it into better words.

  6. They will be enough, as time passes and possessions become less important the memories will be priceless. You won't forget but they will help. Your father won't be gone while there are people who love him and remember him. That's not just cliche, it is fact, my father died in 2003. An empty apartment is hard now but it will be insignificant with time when a head full of memories and a heartful of love become your treasures and your father's home.

  7. Thanks, everyone. Wise words, Penbleth.

    Sondra, I have fond memories of your dad, he was a really cool, nice guy.

    Love you, Jude.

  8. This should have had a disclaimer that mentioned needing tissues. I have had to help with cleaning out my grandparent's things, but can not even imagine the difficulty of going through your own parent's entire life. It is interesting because you mention the cards and letters from his past which are things of mine that I have kept for that specific leave future generations with my story. Thinking of you,

  9. You know, maybe this will help us to think about the end while we still have all our faculties. We helped Mom and Dad move from their home of 35+ years and with that move came the unearthing of things from the past we could talk about, but we never took the time to go through a lot of those really old memory things. There was so much to do just in the present that we never delved into the past much...except for those times that Dad woke up in 1957.

  10. Ellen, it's never enough. You know I understand. *hugs* - Rich

  11. When you can stand to do it, and if you can track down the people who wrote those letters, you might want to scan them and convert them to electronic media for your family archives (easier to store, certainly), and send the originals back to the writers (or the children/survivors of the writers). Sometimes something, like a letter or a picture, that doesn't mean much to you (particularly if it is someone you don't know) can really mean the world to others--little Miss "Smells Bad" might have a daughter or son who would laugh/cry/love reading mom's mash notes.

    It also helps with the whole closure thing, to bring a bit of joy to a stranger. Sometimes you make a friend, too.

    It's not something you need to do now, but maybe you'll be ready to dig into those boxes and do that one day. We did that with a bunch of pictures my great grandmother had, and we got so much love back from what was just a small gesture. We still get cards from a lot of the folks at the holidays. It helps with the healing, too, if you know what I mean.

  12. i am so sorry the you lost your dad I still have both my parents and i pray for their safety every night i dont know waht will happen wnhen they are gone as i have Cp and rely on them alot although im independant thee thought scare me to death honestly i have talked about it with mom and she just doedsnt want to face that idea yethugs to you

  13. So sorry for your loss. I helped do this when my grandparents died, and it made me feel like I was violating some kind of trust...snooping if you will. It was an emotional roller coaster. :( But, it is good to get it all out of the way and not put it off.

    Sending prayers for you and your family during this difficult time.

  14. That not "all that's left". Your father left you and your children- the best legacy a man can leave


Thanks for sharing!

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