Two sayings come to mind: “God is in the details” and “The Devil’s in the details.” Why am I not surprised that such polar opposites describe the reality of details?
Right now it’s the details that keep me heading for the notebook that goes with me everywhere — notes about things to follow up on, to call about, to find out about. I knew something about what I’d be facing once Dad died, in terms of the business of an executor or trustee. But I’m still discovering some.
For example, sometime in the last three weeks I’ve managed to misplace a keyring — and it’s the one with the key to Dad’s safety deposit box. My signature is on the box, so that’s not a problem. But if I can’t find the key, I have to pay $180 to get it drilled. But I can manage it.
I’ve found the insurance papers that I know of, but suspect there’s another one. I’ve contacted one company that turns out to have gone into receivership, but managed to get the right people to help. Now I’m waiting for those papers to come in. The big insurance/annuity policy has been taken to the funeral director, who has taken care of that and once the bill there is paid, Kay and I will get what’s left. I’ve called the larger annuity that was about to have to be rolled out because Dad was turning 90. Kay and I have been to the bank. The officer there has set in motion to have his social security check returned. I still have to contact Dad’s former employer to stop pension checks. Of course, now I have to wait for the certified death certificates so that I can complete paperwork.
Kay and I will sell the house, and Dad knew that. I’ve contacted an appraiser and we’re going to meet soon.
In preparation for that, I’ve rented a 10×15 storage unit for furniture and anything else we’re keeping. I’ve got most of the books boxed, but more to work on.
But lord, the garage! I don’t think my dad ever threw anything out — just the opposite. He collected things. “Oh, I can fix that.” “That engine is still good; I can use it for. . . .” You get the picture. Dad and his siblings were products of the Great Depression and lived accordingly. He had his own tools. He had the tools from my mother’s stepfather. He had tools he’d acquired for all of us. Some of it is neatly tucked away in cabinets. Some of it. But the rest? Let’s put it this way: there’s a double garage with no room for any cars. Come to think of it, I don’t think there was ever room for cars. We’ve never actually used the garage for that purpose. That’s why there is a carport. There is a shed in the back of the yard. In that is the 1977 or 1978 Blazer that Dad and Phil used for hunting and fishing. There’s a boat and trailer. And the riding lawnmower. And probably more tools.
Once the house itself is empty of the life that it held for decades, of the family that no longer lives there, it’s really just a shell. I have fond memories of the house in Egan– but it’s not something I’ll pine for. I was 16 when we moved into this house, and it was the 7th house I lived in, so it isn’t the only home I’ve ever known. In fact, I’ve lived in this house in Lake Charles longer than I have lived anywhere else. The constant home in my life? That would be the farm, I guess. And oddly enough, the house that I dream about most is the house in Beaumont where my maternal grandmother lived. And at times, I dream about the oilfield camp in Egan, that I’m moving back there into one of the houses, but the house is different. And there’s a swimming pool. Of course, someone else owns the land and has built a large home there. But dreams don’t rely on reality. For me, houses have purpose and life, but they’re only things. It’s the memories I cherish, though the house may have some sentimental connection.
Having grown up on the Gulf Coast, I’ve seen houses destroyed by hurricanes. I’ve lost a house — my beach house in Crystal Beach, Texas — to Hurricane Ike. Other than the cracked slab and a few stray, random items, nothing was left after Ike hit Ground Zero not far from my house there. What survived? A few blue glass things I’d tiled a cabinet top with. A Christmas ornament that I left out on a cabinet — a blue angel, now with a chipped wing. I call her the Beach Angel. Everything else washed away, piled up on Oak Island or Goat Island or dragged back to to sink beneath the gray-green waters of the Gulf. It wasn’t my primary home, but I loved it. And I have survived that loss. I once left this house, though, for a Category 5 hurricane that was supposed to rip through Lake Charles, Hurricane Lily, I think. I drove off with my car packed full with pets and computer and photograph albums and music, knowing I might never see the house again. That’s when I realized I could live without the house itself. And when I drove off with the car packed similarly for Hurricane Rita, I didn’t look back. Everything I needed was with me. If I had pets and cameras and computer and photos and music, and I knew family and friends were safe, that’s all I really needed. Clothes? I just needed enough to get by with. After all, there’s always a Walmart somewhere.
So the house in Egan? We’ll sell. I’m not as attached to it as Kay is — she was only 8 or so when we moved in, and she is more sentimental about it than I am.
After all, we’ll still go back to Egan — we have friends who are family now, and I’ve told Billie she has to have room for us when we visit. It’s the house we’re selling, not our connection to Egan.
My notebook sits beside me here on the table now, and I see a few phone calls I can make today. And I’m sure I’ll think of other things I need to make notes about — things to check on, people to call, things to get when I go to Egan next time.
So whether it’s God or the devil in the details, it doesn’t really matter. Perhaps one choice indicates a more positive spin and the other a negative one. Regardless, it’s the details come to drive us, I think, in the aftermath of a death. They keep us going. Grief and mourning take so many different forms and differ from person to person. I know from experience that years after, when you’re calm and think you’re beyond it, something will trigger grief so sharp and fresh that it’s a gut-kick back to the past, to the rawness of loss.
Right now, I’m pacing myself through the details. And daily trying to gather the threads of my life back together, to find my way back to living by myself, in my house, in the town I’ve been in this time since 1981 (and add the 3 1/2 years of college for a total of 34 1/2 years I’ve lived in Lake Charles).
I’m weary, even bone-tired. And weary with the weight of the last months, where I’ve been too busy to let myself go too much. I’ve cried at times, but had to pull myself back together and keep going. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel as though I’ve gotten enough sleep again. I’m sure at some point I’ll actually sleep through the night without waking up to check on Dad. Crying jags will surprise me at some point, I’m sure.
I find myself reading at night, and in the daytime I start a project, a box to fill, or a shelf to clear. Work, as Dad always showed me, was a way to deal with stress. If your hands were busy, he’d say, your mind couldn’t be too. If you tired the body out, you could get rest, and you’d feel productive.
It’s true. So today I’m clearing out the front room with my friend Patty, and putting some things into my storage unit, making that room for a work area for my jewelry and for my office for writing.
My house is taking on life again, shaping itself around my needs now in retirement, and that’s a wonderful thing. I’m finding my way back, even while I make lists of details about closing the past.