Many of you know that my dad passed away in 2011 from ALS. We hadn't always had the best relationship - to be blunt, my dad was often pretty self-centered. Although he was a successful psychiatrist, he struggled to connect emotionally with me as his child. I know now that this irony is not uncommon for children of analysts, but of course I didn't know that as a child. Back then, although we could sometimes have good conversations, I would see him shrink away in fear when I would come to him upset or in tears. He made good money but seemed to want to spend it mostly on his wife, my stepmother and that was also a bone of contention because it fell to my mom to deal with his reticence every time a bill needed to be paid or an opportunity for me came up that would require them both to pitch in.
But when my dad got sick, a lot changed. He started reaching out to me, asking me if I had any questions about things that happened when I was a kid. He started encouraging me to follow my dreams more. He always wanted to hear me play my music when I'd visit. Compared to the previous ten years when he'd only seen me perform once - and that only after I complained that he didn't come to a show down the street from his house. This was a HUGE shift.
By the time he passed, we had done a lot of work on our relationship and I really felt like i got a "dad" those last several years. It was a mind-blowing, life-changing. It made me understand the urgency of living for today.
When my dad passed, he left me his house in Prescott, Arizona, the town he and his wife moved to from Rochester, NY once he had semi-retired. I had been renting the house out for the last 6 years and the income really saved me as an artist. It allowed me to breathe a lot easier about money and make choices based more on what I felt would contribute to the long term of my career, less about only what would pay the bills.
But last month the tenant moved out and I decided it was time to sell the house.
In late February I visited Prescott for the first time since my dad's passing ceremony. After he died, we had a beautiful celebration of his life; his friends and sister and I sat in a circle in his living room and shared stories about my dad. Everyone there mentioned how much my dad liked to be social, what a good listener he was, and how fashionably he liked to dress. He was metro before they invented the word; the man always looked put together.
But visiting this time was a strange and lonely experience. I have never taken to dry desert weather. It makes me feel scattered. It was also below freezing the entire time; everything was raw and bitter, a bit like those ghost town scenes from Western movies. Prescott is a town that attracts a lot of tourists and retirees and has a major "Old West" theme going on. Some of it is historically accurate representation, some of it seems like cultural appropriation of American Indian art, images and culture, some of it just feels weird to me, like an America I never connected that strongly with. I'm used to greenery.
I saw the things my dad and I had seen together, I stood in his house alone and remembered conversations we had had. I remembered sitting next to him, when he was unable to use his arms and needed a tube inserted into his throat to breath sometimes. I remembered him asking me if there was anything I wanted to ask him about my childhood and our relationship when I was younger. This was such a huge moment, because I could see that he wanted to make things right before he passed. It meant everything to me.
Being there now, although everyone I spoke to about the house was polite, I didn't get to talk to anyone else who had been close to him. His former caregiver and best friend was too ill to meet so I had the strange experience of wondering if my dad had ever existed. It was a grieving process all over again, having to let go of the place where my father had lived, but where I had never lived or felt strongly connected to.
Mike June gave me the best advice. He reminded me of the book Lincoln in the Bardo (which he read and which I didn't finish reading but got the basic concept of). Lincoln's young son who died is stuck between life and death. Lincoln is deep in grief. Mike told me that (SPOILER ALERT) eventually the boy had to "free" his dad to move on, knowing they would meet up in the afterlife. I found this so comforting. I wasn't losing my dad more, I was letting him move on from the house.
I've never owned a house that I've lived in before but selling my dad's house will mean that we can afford to buy a house here in North Carolina...
There's not really an end point to this post, just some thoughts about homes and stages of life.