my long goodbye

In Film, Home, Life,, Memory-keeping
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I’ve known for years that this time would come, and that it would  likely arrive with little fanfare. My mother, or increasingly more likely, my brother and I, would have to clear out our family home of over fifty years and ready it for sale.

I have a half century’s connection to these rooms, this yard, this place, and the people who have inhabited it in those years, and I guess I’ve intuited that there’s a part of me that will feel a bit unmoored when my key no longer opens  the front door – when it’s time for a new family to call this house home.

There’s something about being in this physical space, surrounded by its familiar things  that allows me to connect to  all of the previous iterations of myself. My dad has been gone for over twenty years, but in the house I am able to conjure him almost fully formed. When we sat around the dining room table, these last 18 years, as my mom basked in the company of her grandkids, I could simultaneously imagine my own grandparents in their familiar seats sharing that space with us.

But the air in the rooms shifted the moment my mother died. Were I to take photos of the house now, leaving aside the possessions we’ve already begun rearranging, the photos could not hold things as they long were. They are already not.

I think a part of me has known this too – that the moment you begin your leave-taking, it’s already  too late to fix the mental picture of how things were on top of how things are. The images like a set of stacked acetates will no longer align to a register.  So I’ve been making photos of the house and the neighborhood in which I grew up  as long as I’ve been making photos, at the rate of a frame or two almost every time I have visited for well over a decade. Many I’ve shared here before, but I hope you’ll indulge me a highlights reel.

If there is a place that feels a part of you, don’t wait. Make your photos now while its rooms are full of life, just as you’d like to keep them preserved in your imagination. It’s not a substitute for the full sensory experience of inhabiting a beloved place in the company of the people who shaped its meaning for you. But I do believe a photo, carefully made and considered, can sometimes retain an impression of the emotional intention of its maker. Soon enough my only means of revisiting the house will be via memory, and when I lose my sense of the creaks in the floorboards or the particular slant of October light in my old bedroom, it’s my hope that these photos will give a little more shape and substance to these rooms when I want to keep company with them in my mind’s eye.

Be well and take good care,
Debbie

9 Comments

  1. Oh how I love how you have captured the essence of your home.
    I suspect you will treasure these images for years to come.
    Much love.
    x

  2. I wish I had more photos of our space growing up… Trying to fix that for my kids. Love all the beautiful light in your mothers house, possibly a reflection of how you felt when you were there.

  3. This is absolutely beautiful. I’ve gone through this experience too – the sorting and sifting of a life well-lived. My photos like these are treasures. And yes, I wish I had taken more. But even one has the power to bring powerful memories, like the scent of my mother’s bread pudding. Thank you for this lovely antidote to Black Friday shopping emails! I am honored to share this view into your life.

  4. Beautiful as always. Sending lots of love and healing wishes.

  5. It’s incredible how much certain spaces can hold for us, and how permanently the spaces change when loss enters them. Thanks for sharing these photographs with us. It’s such a gift to have them.

    Oh man, the last two photographs – so very poignant, to see the empty space, then to see your Mom actively loving her grandkids in the same space.

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Debbie. I hope you can cherish the deep love.

    <3

  6. I love this Debbie. One of the things I wish I had done more of was photograph my grandparents home in Pittsburgh. I often go to it in my mind, walking from room to room. In fact, eons ago, I videotaped my Nanna giving me a tour of her home, only I have no idea what happened to the tape. Recently, we lost a dear family friend and I told my friends to make a video walking through their childhood house and to capture their favorite details before they began unravelling their father’s life. I love these photos and I love that you have so many details. They’re beautiful reminders of your life, your parents and the countless memories swirling around in your head. So much love to you for your loss and thank you for sharing your memories with us.

  7. Beautiful pictures Debbie, thank you for sharing. They flood my mind with the memories I treasure of our childhoods, the many meals I ate under that chandelier, the nights I slept on the floor of that bedroom, us kids running about the backyard, our parents lounging on the patio. And that Nathan’s picture. I’ve never looked at it without hearing you’re father’s booming voice and roaring laughter. I wish I could be there with you again. Much love, xoxo.

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