I remember asking my grandmother if she was lonely. She had been a widow for several years and was living alone in her home. I knew she didn’t get many visitors, and I worried that her golden years had lost some of their sparkle.
She told me that she was lonely at times, but she could look around the house and see all the memories she and my grandfather had made. She could see me and my sister doing cartwheels down the hall, my grandfather and uncle remodeling the kitchen and the fireplace, she did her hair in the bathroom where she remembered bathing my sister and me, and she could see all the Christmases, Thanksgivings, and Sunday dinners that filled the modest house with boisterous laughter, playing children, and delicious food. She could see us kids running in the front yard or swinging on the tire swing out back.
Sunday dinners became fewer and further between as schedules and relationships became strained. We had long ago outgrew the home for holidays – in fact we outgrew it long before we moved the celebrations elsewhere. The remodels were done so long ago that they needed to be redone, and you can trust that I was no longer doing cartwheels done the hall.
Despite all of the changes, many of them painful, my grandmother still saw all the good in that house. Her memories of a home that held so much good are what kept her company. Looking back, I think that’s why she liked to clean out closets. I’m sure she found treasured memory after treasured memory in those closets.
And then the closets were emptied, and all but a few pieces of furniture were given away and sold, Grandma’s view was no longer the front yard where we played, but the employee parking lot at an Assisted Living facility. She no longer sat next to fireplace my grandfather and uncle remodeled, but next to an industrial looking heating and cooling unit you see in motel rooms. Her beautiful white hair was no longer coiffed in the bathroom where she once gave us baths, but in the one where someone gave her a bath.
A few months after her move, I asked her if it was nice having so many people around. She had someone to eat every meal with, she had people to play cards and go to Bingo with. I wasn’t prepared to hear her response.
She had never been surrounded by so many people, yet she had never felt so lonely. She was surrounded by loneliness.
I have long heard that life isn’t about where you live, rather the people you share it with. But what happens when your people die, move away, or stop visiting? Our homes carry our memories. The rooms, the knick-knacks, the furniture, all of it carries visions of the life we have lived. Those memories…those walks down memory lane remind us of a time when we felt more connected to the world.
For my grandmother, her house, the one she had made a home, was her connection to memories. And when it was taken away, it didn’t just take the sparkle from her golden years, it took the sparkle from her eyes.
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