In memory of the life, love and wit of Carol Versandi
August 1, 2014
Today marks 6 months since I lost my mom. ….well, I didn't actually lose her. I mean, I know where she is in a physical sense. I mean she died on this day, 6 months ago. February 1st 2014. One hundred and eighty days ago. One hundred and eighty of the worst days of my life.
I replay the events of that Saturday afternoon over and over again. Every morning when I wake up and every night right before I fall asleep. I hear the voice from the hospital every single day. "Your mother was brought in unresponsive". "Your mother was brought in unresponsive". "Your mother was brought in unresponsive". "Your mother was brought in unresponsive".
I had never heard that woman's voice before and I'll most likely never hear it again. But I will never ever forget it. It's burned into me like a scar.
And in these past one hundred and eighty days, I've experienced a lifetime's worth of pain and grief and overwhelming sadness. All of which continues to this very second. As I've mentioned in previous posts, time does not in fact heal all wounds.
But I've also experienced some bizarre form of cathartic upheaval. I know that doesn't really make sense. How can something be both chaotic and relieving at the same time?
Beats me. I'm just along for the ride.
See, the responsibility of handling my mom's estate has fallen solely on my shoulders. I'm not complaining. It's just a fact. There's nobody else around to help, so it's been completely up to me to go through everything. Her bank accounts, deal with her bills, close out investments, sell off her assets, etc. The biggest one of course, has been her house. Since February, I've spent all of my free time going through her things, cleaning out her house and getting it ready to put on the market.
This, in and of itself is a daunting task for anyone. Sifting through someone's life, that alone is a challenge. But this isn't "someone". This is my mother. MY mother.
And this isn't a house. It was my home.
I was born there. I was raised there. I grew up there. I lived there. And not just "lived" in the physical sense of occupying a space. That is where I lived.
So for the past six months, I've had the unenviable task of taking apart my mothers life piece by piece.
I won't document the entire process. Truth is, I couldn't even if I wanted to. It's been both a haze and a blur and I'm kind of thankful for that.
It started out slow. First with the kitchen. Get rid of all the food. Anything that can go bad. Empty the refrigerator. Then the cabinets. …ok, that wasn't so bad.
Get some newspaper and some boxes and wrap up all the glasses, the plates, the plastic containers, the pots and pans. It's a shame to just throw them away. Let's give them to Goodwill.
I tell myself that donating her things is what Carol would have wanted. I begin the process of lying to myself because we both know that Carol wouldn't have given a shit either way.
Next, the bathroom. Easy. One big contractor's garbage. Throw everything away. Done.
On to the bedrooms. Now this….this one is tricky. My mom lived in a 3 bedroom ranch house. The main bedroom is or more accurately was, hers. The second largest used to be my bedroom when I was a kid. But for the past 20 or so years, it has been my moms craft room. Filled with every kind of crafting supply imaginable. Paints, glue, glitter, clay, wooden dowels, paper maché mix, plaster, resins, epoxies, scrapbooking supplies, ribbons, fabrics and scissors. Literally hundreds of pairs of scissors.
What do I do with all this stuff? Throw it all out? See if any of my friends want it? Donate it?
And this is where the actual "deconstruction" started. It was at this moment, I realized what I was doing.
I was dismantling my mother's life. I had buried her body and now I was forced to remove any evidence that she ever existed.
Needless to say, I broke down and cried for days.
When I got back to it, I figured the only way I was going to get through this was to handle it very matter-of-factly. Very systematically. Leave your emotions out of it. After all, it's only stuff, right?
I continued lying to myself.
From that point on, every room in the house got three piles. 1. Trash 2. Goodwill 3. Keep
The Keep pile was then separated into 4 sub piles. 1. Keep for me. 2. Send to her sister. 3. Send to my brother. 4. Send to her friends.
Once I got into this mindset, things became easier. It was never "easy". Seeing a pile of things you've seen your entire life and knowing full well they are getting thrown out is devastating. But knowing you're doing something that has to be done, made it "easier".
And I need to point out that I would never….absolutely positively never, have been able to do any of this without my wife's help. She was there with me and for me, every single step of the way. And for that, I will always be grateful.
So this is how it went until all the rooms were empty.
It goes without saying, that clearing out my mom's bedroom was obviously the hardest. Going through her closet. Looking at her clothes. My mom wasn't a fancy or extravagant person. She didn't care about having expensive clothes or flashy jewelry. She was a simple person and lived a simple life and her house and her bedroom showed that.
But having that knowledge didn't help. I cried every single day I spent cleaning out her room. These things….this "stuff"….this was the bulk of what she had. This room was the accumulation of her life. 70 years old. Raised two kids all on her own. Gave us everything we ever needed. Filled our house, our lives with love. 70 years old. Went without so that other people could have. Gave everything she had, never asked anything of others and this…this is what she had to show for it. She goddamn well deserved better! I should have provided more. Should have been there more. Should have given MORE.
I will live the rest of my life believing that and I hope that my last thought…the words on my dying breath are, "I'm sorry mom. You deserved better".
But back to the business at hand…
Now that the house was more or less empty, it's time to get it ready to sell. That means new paint, new carpets and a little bit of set dressing.
My mom lived in that house for over 40 years. And in that time, not a whole lot had been updated. Or at least, not recently. So I knew that I was never going to get "top dollar" for it. It's a small, some would consider "starter house" that needed a bit of cosmetic work. Nothing crazy, but work nonetheless.
So I knew that without sinking thousands into renovating the kitchen, the bathroom, etc, I was looking at an "as is" kind of sale. Which is fine, but it still needed some attention and elbow grease…."elbow grease"…does anybody even say that anymore? Jesus Christ, I'm old..
Again, I must point out that without my wife, this would never have gotten done. I hate painting. Seriously hate it. I find the whole thing tedious and boring. But together, my wife and I washed, taped, spackled, sanded, sealed, primed and painted every wall, every window frame and every inch of molding.
After that it was onto the carpets and finally cleaning and staging the house.
At the time, it seemed like that hard part was finally behind me. I mean, I had just spent the last few months taking apart what was left of my mother. Painting over her life like I was trying to get rid of incriminating evidence. Doing what I could so that no visible trace would remain.
She was gone. Now, so were her things. The house I grew up in….the home that I had for 30 years was empty. It felt like a stage. A facade. Like it wasn't really house. It was just there for show.
But the guilt was still there. It's still there now. I carry it around with me all the time.
If I had the means…the money..the time…I would keep that house. I would never sell it.
Sure I could sell my house and move in. But I don't want to do that. I don't actually want to live there. I just want to keep the house and never change a thing. Keep it as my own personal Graceland. I would open the doors every weekend and invite people in.
I would walk them through each room and tell them stories about what it was like growing up here. Give them a grand guided tour!
Tell them about the posters I hung on my wall. Show them the big black crate I kept in my closet with all my special effects equipment. Makeup, brushes, latex, paint casting materials and instructional books. Tell them about the time I convinced my mom to buy me a waterbed. Then tell them about the time it sprang a leak and flooded the entire room ruining the wood floors and the basement ceiling.
I'd take them out into the backyard and show them the spot where I once built a stage for my band Madcap to perform at a 4th of July party. We opened the set with our guitarist, Matt Hogan, playing the Star Spangled Banner and the crowd went wild. You should have seen it!
But mostly I would tell them about my mom. I would tell them what kind of person she was. How funny she was. How gentle. How giving.
And in my mind, as I go through this scenario, I actually feel sad for these visitors. They will never get a chance to meet her. Never really know her as anything more then a story.
I would treat that house as though it were a museum. A monument in her honor. She deserves nothing less.
But instead, it's just an empty house. With a "For Sale" sign sticking out of the front lawn like a white flag waiving defeat. I've lost.
My mom is gone and soon her house will be gone too. And like I keep saying, time doesn't heal all wounds. Time just keeps adding new wounds to try and conceal the old ones. It's sad. But that is the truth that nobody wants to tell you.
But it's not all bad. I know that soon enough, somebody, hopefully a young pair of newlyweds, will walk into that house and know instantly that it's the right house for them. They will be able to see past the little imperfections and say "This is where we want to start a family". Just like my mom and dad did almost half a century ago. Just like my wife and I did when we bought our house a decade ago.
They'll paint the walls the color that's right for them. They'll decorate their own way. They'll move in their own furniture. And they make that blank canvas a home again.
I know that sounds clichéd and trite, but I actually feel that way. I do have hope that someone new will be able to move in and build a life for themselves and for their family. I hope they water the lawn and meet the neighbors and have an annual Labor Day barbecue. I hope their kids draw on the walls and get punished and set to their rooms. I hope their extended family comes over every year for Thanksgiving and they all sit in the living room watching the parade. Or they decide to put their Christmas Tree over by the front window. Just like we did.
I know everything comes to an end. Circle of Life my friends…Hakuna Matata. It doesn't mean I'm happy about it or even ok with it. In a perfect world I, wouldn't be typing this right now.
But things are what they are and we do what we can to get by. I could lay in bed for the rest of my life crying about this or I can try to look forward and focus on the positive things.
I love my mother. I will always love her. She made me the man I am today and despite what some people may think, I turned out pretty fucking good…although I should probably work on that whole cursing thing….. I'm a good person. I'm compassionate, considerate and kind (in most cases). All of which I inherited from her. She may be gone. Her things may be gone. Her house may be gone. But her memory, the strength of her character and her spirit will never disappear. Not on my watch buddy…not on my watch.