Monday, October 06, 2008

Goodbye Deferred, For Now

I hate goodbyes. I hate them with a passion. I avoid goodbyes at all costs, being the first one to duck out of a reunion without the customary adieus, avoiding that final glance by ducking out the back door with a friendly, "I'll see you before I leave..." Goodbyes are not easy for me.

Saturday was spent helping pack up my grandparents' home on Chapman Lake. Those who know me, or follow this blog, are aware that my grandfather died in July and for many reasons the decision was made to sell the lake cottage, reasons which I understand and appreciate, but understanding and appreciating don't soothe the ache in this granddaughter's heart just yet.

Saturday was spent sorting through and dividing the accumulated treasures and detritus of a lifetime. We sorted fine china and silver and then wondered what to do with Grandma's bridge of false teeth (seemed strange to throw it away, seemed strange to keep it). We divvied up family Bibles, and saved small pieces of paper with words written in Grandpa or Grandma's shaky handwriting. We claimed the things which were meaningful to each of us (a T shirt which smelled like Grandpa, the Fisher Price phone from the late 1960s which I hauled around the cottage when I could first walk) and reluctantly threw away old receipts, and old keychains, and old muffin mixes.

I wept all the way to the lake that day. The property "changes hands" in a few weeks and this will likely be my last time in the house, but in true Miller fashion, I focused on the task at hand. I worked, for by working one can avoid a heap of pain.

I was the only grandchild at the lake that day. Most of my cousins live too far away to come for the day, several of them have already done their part cleaning up the garage or assisting in Grandpa's care. I labored alongside my aunts and uncles and stood apart in my respect for their grief, a generation once removed who yields to its elders.

The day wore on, my uncles occupied themselves in the garage and shed; took the boat out of the water and removed the engine. My aunts and step-mother and I sorted clothes, dishes, household goods. I knew the time was coming when I would need to leave; I had to attend the ballet that evening where Miss T. was dancing. I worked until the moment that I had to go. And when it was time to leave I disciplined myself to truly say goodbye, at least to the people. I looked around and realized both my uncles had already gone. In true Miller fashion. Without a goodbye.

I understood.

I could not say goodbye to the lake. I did not cry on the way home. I focused my eyes on the road and fixed my thoughts on the evening to come and mentally rearranged certain places in my home that I wanted to incorporate memorabilia from Chapman Lake which was carefully placed in boxes in the back seat.

I have not said my goodbyes yet. I believe they will come quietly when the last of my grandparents ashes are scattered at the swimming hole, or late in the night as I cradle a mussel shell rescued from the beach and use it as a centering tool, as a polestar of sorts.

Goodbye will come. But I have to digest it in small pieces. And I have to believe my grandparents, the two who built each of their original homes bit by bit, adding only what they could afford at the time so that they were often living in a perpetual state of incompleteness, would have recognized this bit-by-bit grief, this grief which still lives in a home with no doorknobs even after twenty years.

This is all I know to do now. And I trust that they would have understood.