Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What's Left Behind

My husband and I look around his parents' house while my sister-in-law gathers the final papers.  Its weeks until the closing date which also marks about eight years since his parents both passed away from cancer.  The house is starting to look empty and hollow.  It reminds me of when I was a kid and we moved from an apartment to a house. Across time the feeling hasn't changed.  A chapter of life is ending. 

My sister-in-law looks through the china closet and divides family treasures while she and my husband reminisce.  I scan the shelves.  Aside from some really cool Tiki themed mugs I can't find anything of significance.  I get an overwhelming sense of urgency to find something among the cups and figurines.  Something that can help me retell a story about my daughter's grandparents.  People she will never know whose lives will only be painted by photos and objects. 

My husband says not to worry.  That between him and his siblings we will have plenty of ways to create an image of who they were.  But as I walk around the rooms, I feel something I hadn't felt during their sickness and death.  Loss. 

Maybe its because back then I was trying to be the support system for my husband as we were newly dating when his parents were diagnosed.  Over the next few years the process of watching them get sicker, the emotional ups and downs and in the end, making funeral arrangements, prevented me from feeling connected to them.  A connection I'm now looking to have with something that represents them as the bare walls remind me that time is running out.  Something to have in our home that will wash away the memories I have of them being sick.  But the reality is I only knew them at the end of their lives.  And its my lack of happy, fun memories of these two people that make me saddest of all.  That as a parent, whose responsibility it is to teach a child,  I don't have anything to pass along.

I ask my husband  if there is anything we can take for our daughter.  Anything that was important to his mother or father that is still left.  He looks through his parents' bedroom and comes back with his mother's Cabbage Patch Kid still in the dusty, weathered box.  He remembers the doll from his childhood.  Although I have never seen it before I decide it will do.

On the ride home I think of my daughter and feel like I've failed her.  That I didn't take the time to really think about what to hold on to while the family was disassembling the house.  That no matter how many times I looked around waiting for some kind of spiritual enlightenment , I didn't to find anything tangible to preserve memories of people I didn't really know.  I get a sinking feeling in my chest, realizing their blood runs through the veins of my child, connecting us in ways I could have never imagined when they passed.  Before I knew my husband was the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with and that this would be my family.

Days later my daughter picks up a crayon with her left hand. She begins to draw with ease. Wide open arcs and small tight circles.  She favors this hand at meals as well, quickly scooping up peas and noodles.  My mother-in-law was a lefty, the only one in the family.  Her penmanship so neat as it noted every birthday of every person she knew on the calendar in the kitchen.  I look at my daughter's drawing and consider that maybe more important things have indeed been left behind.

This week's post is in memory of two very special people whom my family and I remember every year as we raise funds for The American Cancer Society Relay for Life, hosted this month on June 23rd.  Please visit my fundraising page and donate in memory of someone you lost or in honor of someone who is still fighting.  Together we can find a cure and be sure our children can make their own memories of the ones they love.


  1. Nicole...this was lovely. And the things that parents and grandparents leave behind aren't actually "things". Their greatest legacy is Kenny, the wonderful man, husband and father he is. And those things will be passed on to Jordan.

  2. I can wholly sympathize with your situation. I have the same feelings of doubt that I will be able to fully explain to my son who his Uncle Brian was... He only met him once when he was a couple of week's old, and of course, there will be no memory of that. We will have to paint a picture of Brian through pictures and stories. But, it's just not the same. I can only hope that my kids end up getting some awesome personality trait from their uncle, just like your daughter is getting from her grandma.