The Empty House

On April 17, my 96-year-old mother passed away after a short stint in hospice care. She died surrounded by those who loved her, in the home that had been her castle for 62 years, just like she wanted. Who could ask for a better passing?

Lorna Ann With 1921-2018
Dad and Mom, New Year’s Eve 1957, in the living room.

For the past several years I’ve been living in this house that I grew up in, coming and going while managing her end-of-life care. She and Dad bought it in 1956. I was barely one.

Childhood there was a war-zone. Dad eventually left and Mom soldiered on, but it wasn’t really a happy home. After she retired, she lived alone for 34 more years under this roof.

In those latter years, the vibe of the house morphed into a solitude that comes from triumphing over adversity. Despite my father abandoning her and his four kids, she got a job, raised us, and bought and paid for the house with her own money. She didn’t have much but she managed it smartly, using the equity in the house to keep it well-maintained.

After she retired, she grew gardens, mowed her lawn, wrote poetry, read voraciously, and joined a bowling league. Her best friends were the four of us, the waitresses at the cafes where she ate lunch, and the clerks at her grocery store. She swam and walked and lived simply in her peaceful home in solitary independence.

Mom’s 96th Birthday

Mom made me promise that I would make sure she could die in her home. So when she could no longer care for herself, I found personal attendants Terry and Victoria on Craig’s List. The equity in the house paid their wages. We all moved into her house together and I eventually found a county program to pay them. Terry and Victoria became her sisters, her constant companions until the end. Thankfully Mom’s house had three bedrooms and a finished basement.

At the end, she was in her bed in the living room with Family Feud on the Game Show Network, just like normal. When everyone was out of the room, she took her last breath, alone, at 5:03 PM. With that, she left to go on what she described a few days earlier as “a very long trip.”

Since her passing, I’m in contact with her. I can feel her presence when I need her, not much different than when she was alive. Whenever I had a bad day or something big happened, she knew before I told her. She would often “send out a vibe” that I was to call her, and I would get the message to “call Mom.” While being able to talk to her in Afterlife doesn’t stop the sorrow of her passing, it’s profoundly comforting to have her guide me through the pain.

I cleared my calendar to administer her estate. There wasn’t much to do; her belongings were minimal. I began slowly listing stuff for sale. Some of the bigger items sold, but smaller things weren’t moving.

In the freshness of my loss, I was not ready to just box up Mom’s possessions and drop them at a thrift store, even though I could clearly hear her say, “It’s just stuff!” I decided to do a giveaway. I thought she could be part of bequeathing her stuff to these strangers who answered the ads.

Everyone who came was so kind and appreciative, sometimes driving across town to retrieve something like an under-the-counter plastic light that must have been 40 years old, or a badly cracked desk chair floor protector. The kindness of these strangers for my loss and their appreciation to receive the giveaway was a warm comfort in the face of the sadness. No doubt Mom was happy seeing how it was helping me.

Through the summer I lived in this continually emptying house. When someone came to take away another piece of Mom’s life, time and memories peeled away like layers of an onion. In the emptiness, she appeared to me at various stages of those 62 years, but mostly the years after everyone had left and she had the house to herself. Comfort came from realizing that, after all the pain and loss she suffered early on, she eventually found peace living a solitary, independent life, in love with her family and her home.

While divesting her stuff, I stayed in the back bedroom, the one I had when I was eleven. In that empty house, the shadow of that 11-year-old girl unexpectedly emerged one morning, panicked that the only person who ever stood to protect her was now gone.

One night 50-some years ago, she witnessed my drunk father kick my mother down the back stairs from the same bedroom window. When she couldn’t stand it any longer, she ran out to confront them, screaming, “STOP! Just STOP! STOP HURTING EACH OTHER!” They were stunned, after a lifetime of me silently enduring their endless war by hiding in my bedroom or fleeing the house.

Shortly after that, my father packed up and left for good. As he knelt in the dining room to tell that 11-year-old that he was never coming back, she was traumatized, literally torn in two: part was so relieved that the war would come to an end, and part was completely panicked that her father was leaving, forever, because of her.

This 63-year-old, however, reached out to life coach and Conflict REVOLUTION trainer Robin Cordova. Together we found that child and attended to her. I created the intention to learn to mother her in ways I never received at that age. It was painstaking work, some days liberating, other days overwhelming, especially while mourning Mom. But step by step, we brought her into the light.

Robin asked me to ask her to share something about herself that I might not know. She quickly replied, “I am super psychic and slightly autistic.” As an adult, I know the challenges being psychic has presented me. What must it have been like for this 11-year-old girl, growing up in a war zone?

Alone in that empty house, one day at a time, I let myself feel everything she felt. She explained how frightened she was to know things, and to have senses that were so sensitive to sound, to light, to touch. I understand this now as the spectrum of what is called neurodiversity.  As more layers of the onion peeled back to reveal the depth of this lifelong wound, we were now able to heal. Together we tapped into the fierce energy of my mother’s love that was wrapping around us from Afterlife and the power of the mother energy emanating from within us. With that, all of us began to relax and surrender, and finally rest. This gave me a whole new sense of compassion for myself, as well as for my mom.

Giving away the piano.

The house eventually sold. In the month before we closed, I set up my piano in the living room and spent my last days there playing music on the same spot where she breathed her last. She loved my music. In her final years, I got to play for her on the old piano I wrote so many songs on as a kid. But now that piano was gone, too.

As I played music in that empty house, I could feel her, so very proud, so very appreciative that her daughter survived to thrive, despite her mistakes. I could feel her right there with me still, there until my turn comes to go on a “very long trip.”

In the end, this home was Mom’s real husband, the structure that took care of her until death they did part. A very nice young man with a dog bought it, saying he fell in love with it the minute he set foot inside.

May the magic continue …

14 thoughts on “The Empty House

  1. Oh Barb, this post broke me wide open! Thank you so much for sharing. And thank you for the elegant language in which we can begin conversing about so many things we have been illiterate about! May peace be with you!

  2. Hmmmm…. many thanks, Barb, for your open-hearted sharing of these intimate, sometimes hear-wrenching experiences growing up. I appreciate all of this as I navigate the mothering of my own 12 year old self by my now 70 year old self. My dad also drank and the 5 of us kids witnessed various difficult and scary events over the years. I was the one who afforded my mother the most emotional support but realize the toll it took on me even as she discounted how dad’s drinking could have affected me at all.
    Blessing to you and, indeed, to all of us who are wending our way through the healing of our own lives, all of them, lol!
    Big hugs,
    ”Jojo”

    1. Jojo thank you so much. I know you have gone through much around your parents as well. It might take a lifetime or more for us to unravel from those things that happened as kids. Sending you blessings and love as well! OX B

  3. What a beautiful, loving, caring process you went through. Things sound and feel peaceful and I am so glad your “inner child” was able to be healed. I can relate so well. So much more I could say, but I think you have shared so much with this that I will leave it here. Blessings you you always and your Mom.

    1. Thank you Kathy. It certainly is a universal subject, not only that most of us will be losing parents, but also facing our own long trip as well. Right back at you, blessings!

  4. So beautiful Barb……so elegant and poignant , yet profoundly sad….
    But from where you have been to where you are now, I think you have found the answer to an earlier question you asked on FB……I believe “you are learning to age gracefully”…. it’s in your words, your thoughts, your wisdom….and through the beauty of your pen to paper, you are teaching others to do the same…..such a journey we are on. I’m blessed to have you on this journey of life with me….
    Love you always and forever….💝

    1. Lisa thank you so much. I too feel so blessed you returned into my life in these later years. We are always on this “long trip” together! Let’s get together soon! Love you, B

  5. Thank you for sharing this with us. I can only imagine how it was for you as a child, so incredibly sensitive, living with such abuse and violence. I’m glad your mother was able to work and have her house, and to stay there until she died, with such love and support around her. Beautiful.

    And yes, after a parent’s death is a ripe time for healing, I’ve found.

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