Dividing Dad

I am the youngest of four siblings.  The baby. Three girls and a boy.  I have never written too much at all about family dynamics because it’s not solely my story to tell. As with any family, there are many stories to tell, but I don’t have exclusive ownership of them, so I simply don’t tell.  Maybe someday when I am old and gray. Right now, I am just middle-aged and gray, so the telling still feels premature.

A few years ago I asked my Dad if I could write about what it was like to grow up with a father who experienced depression.  Not the blues, mind you, but depression.  Hard core intractable not getting out of bed for weeks (months?) depression.  I am fairly settled that if I ever write a memoir, the title I keep coming back to is, “The Depressive’s Daughter.”  It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

A candid I took in Ireland on a trip my Dad and I took there together a few months before my wedding.  He was so much in his element there.
A candid I shot in Ireland on a trip my Dad and I took there together a few months before my wedding. He was so much in his element there.

Anyway.  Clear as could be, my Dad said, “No.  I wouldn’t want that.  After I die you could.”  Well, my Dad died almost three months ago.  With his blessing, it is now my story to tell.  I don’t think I’m up for that task yet, though.  Not today.  Not tomorrow. Maybe someday.  Maybe never.

There are so many tasks when a parent dies. More so when your last parent dies.  We are in the thick of that right now.  Paying bills, closing up a condo, sorting through what our 81 year old father carried with him through his life.

Talk about depressing.

My two older sisters did the lion’s share of the work.  I needed that.  As POA for my Dad, I have been on high gear since his decline started in November.  Now, as executor, I am overwhelmed with the legalities involved with closing someone’s estate. The task of sorting through a small condo full of stuff was too daunting to even imagine.  I will forever be grateful to have been relieved of that task.

I am grateful this task is done, despite how final and brutal and crushingly sad it is to parse out your parents’ lifetimes and your own childhood all in one fell swoop.  We done good, the four of us, and I think our Mom and Dad would be proud.  

Nearing the end of the sorting (Did I mention my Dad was also a hoarder?  True story. He blamed growing up in the depression for his tendency to not release a single sheet of paper that ever crossed his path.), it was time for all four of us siblings to do something I have dreaded — dividing up Dad.

When my Mom died ten years ago my Dad pushed hard to sell their rural retirement home and downsize into a city apartment within ten months of her death.  Very methodically he supervised the dismantling of his home, with anything of value — either sentimental or economic — to be placed in the living room.

When we began the process of dividing things back then, it had the air of Christmas to it. We were that maudlin family who for years would talk and joke about what we wanted when our folks kicked the bucket.  It was a rare thing for all of us to be together not on a holiday.  But there we sat, cross legged on the living room carpet, waiting our turn to pick what we wanted to be ours.

My Dad devised a system of 1-2-3-4-4-3-2-1. The oldest picked first, leading to the youngest, then we went in reverse, with the youngest making an immediate second pick, leading back to the oldest.  Being the youngest, I got to pick two things at a time.

The process was as joyful as it was excrutiating. I remember it got heated a time or two. Dammit!, you would think, as someone else picked something that was next on your wish list. And because we’re all Irish sentimentalists, the old copper kitchen canisters from 1958 had more value than a set of Waterford candlesticks.  My Dad kept all of my Mom’s jewelry, except for a few pieces (I got the choker of pearls!).  I think he was not yet ready to part with it.

My Mom’s jewelry lived in an empty can of cocktail peanuts for years before my Dad requested we all sit down and divvy up those treasures.

With our Dad gone, we only had ourselves to rely on during this last process of division.  I was grateful to see my nephew was there, thinking his presence would keep us all honest.  Surely we would all avoid the drama and act like adults if someone was there who only knew us as adults, and not as the children we felt like.

My Dad had held on to most of our big family treasures after my Mom’s death.  Her oil paintings (she painted before and after her first couple of kids were born), a very finely calligraphed papal blessing of their wedding, Irish landscapes my Dad used to import during his years traveling back and forth to his parent’s homeland, a snub nosed Smith & Wesson, ephemera of a lifetime working in transportation and their mid-century marriage.

Some of my loot -- Waterford crystal my folks loved, a Marshall Field's candy dish, the Virgin Mary that lived on my Dad's dresser from 1958 until he died, a Connamara marble ashtray.  All just things, but things that call up my folks.
Some of my loot — Waterford crystal my folks loved, a Marshall Field’s candy dish, the Virgin Mary that lived on my Dad’s dresser from 1958 until he died, a Connamara marble ashtray, a cheap blue bird my Mom loved. All just things, but things that call up my folks and my childhood simultaneously.

So now it’s done.  Dad is divided, equally, we all hope.  My oldest sister, doing as oldest siblings do, brokered a stalemate and helped us all avoid ugly conflict around all four of us wanting the two to three most prized possessions.  Thank you, brother and sisters, for all of us keeping it civil and drama free!

I am grateful this task is done, despite how final and brutal and crushingly sad it is to parse out your parents lifetimes and your own childhood all in one fell swoop.  We done good, the four of us, and I think our Mom and Dad would be proud.

But so much of my energy was just spent getting through the division of Dad that I didn’t really allow myself to feel too much of it in the moment.  Now is the time for feeling.  As a light a candle in their treasured crystal hurricane lamp engraved for their 25th anniversary in 1983 that will now sit on a credenza that used to rest in their bedroom, I will think of my Mom and Dad often, with love and fondness and a little hole, which will never be filled in.

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