The WeMakeDo family spent the Christmas period in Arizona this year. But unlike other family holidays, this one had a defined but very daunting purpose to it: To clear out Grandpa and Grandma MakeDo’s house of the past 40 years, to sell it and get them moved up to the Northwest to be closer to grandkids. What started as a challenging but seemingly attainable goal turned into a heart breaking experience, so poignant in its irony, that we feel it has to be shared for the message it conveys so clearly.
Grandpa MakeDo was the best Grandpa ever, with endless time and love for his grandkids. His lifetime dream was to live surrounded by his family – he used to use the phrase “family compound”, with the grandkids running freely between houses. But, 20 years on, they had somehow found themselves with kids gone and without much of a community around them. Elder isolation had crept in, and their quality of life was diminishing. When Mrs MakeDo would describe our set-up in Ireland to them, with the kids running over to their Nana’s house, Grandpa in particular would smile in envy. How lucky he said their Irish Grandma was, to have the kids and grandkids so near. In the US, unfortunately, most of us don’t live like this.
So the extended family came up with a plan. We’ll move Grandpa and Grandma up to the Pacific Northwest, where 8 members of the family were, including 3 grandkids. And then we’ll work on getting them a visa to live in Ireland, once the Washington family have had enough! Then Grandpa MakeDo’s life dream could finally come true.
That plan was hatched about 2 years ago and unfortunately never took off….
The problem was, Grandpa was a little bit of a hoarder. He loved electronics, and woodworking, and airplanes, and BOOKS! Piles of books that hadn’t been looked at in years. And every kind of tool imaginable. Coffee cans of screws and nails that ‘could be useful someday’. Furniture from his great grandma, and special cherrywood that he’d planned to build a desk out of in 1972. He couldn’t bear to part with any of it. His hobbies and passion for learning was what made him interesting and wonderful. But unfortunately, that’s also what prevented him and Grandma from selling the house and moving closer to family.
So, with a nagging feeling that time was of the essence, round 2 of the plan was devised and approved by all family. We (Mr & Mrs MakeDo) would come to Arizona to do the ugly work: Pry the possessions from a now fragile Grandpa MakeDo, by distracting him with the company of his grandkids. It worked beautifully, and after working nearly 10 hours a day for 3 weeks (a blog post for another day about the joys of dispositioning heaps of stuff to numerous amazing charities, and the wonderful support of friends and family who pulled together to support this effort), we decided we’d finished. So we rewarded ourselves by driving up to the mountains for a 2 day holiday-within-a-holiday.
We arrived back to find that Grandpa had just been taken to hospital after collapsing at a doctor’s appointment. The next day was our eldest child’s 6th birthday, which we planned to celebrate by sneaking the kids and chocolate cake & candles into Grandpa’s hospital room. When we got there, he was not in any shape for celebrating. His last words were a warm Happy Birthday to our eldest, and telling them how much he loved them as he hugged them. And a few days later, he was gone.
The fist pounding, frustrating, horrible irony of this all is that his stuff prevented him from realizing his lifelong dream. This plan was never able to get off the ground over the previous 2 years due to the overwhelming burden of their possessions. It was just too difficult and a source of too much contention to start to tackle the stuff that needed to be sifted through. This meant that Grandpa did not get to spend the last few years of his life around his grand kids as was his dream. And, too much of his last few weeks were taken up in dealing with stuff and what to do with it: Issues like some missing items, lost due to all the moving around that was going on…..where should things go that were just too big to take but too good to give away …what price should we ask for some tools that were too good to donate etc. etc. Surely these things we accrue during our lives do not deserve to take so much of our time as they can do especially when it is so, so precious.
We returned home heartbroken….and even more determined not to let our stuff dictate to us under any circumstances.
Apologies for the lack of communication here for a while, but we couldn’t find the words.
“Onward and upward” as Grandpa would say…