Why a home is so much more than bricks and mortar
SOONER or later, it happens to most of us. Whether we like it or not, there comes a time when we have to empty the contents of the home of an elderly, close and dear relative who has recently passed away.We’re rarely prepared for it and certainly never trained to do it.
This may sound rather morbid and depressing but, in many ways this offers the perfect opportunity to look back in detail on a loved one’s life as you sort through their possessions and see, sometimes for the first time, landmarks of their life.
Their personal history is often expressed in the least valuable yet most revealing souvenirs and mementoes. An old recipe book can bring out a flood of memories of favourite dishes prepared for family gatherings with ritual regularity. Photos can expose the life of a loved one with captured moments sometimes starting with pictures taken long before we were even born: a grandfather’s school photograph with the whole class looking terribly old-fashioned, a formal and overly posed wedding with bride and groom looking longingly into each other’s eyes or a smiling baby that could in fact be you.
Generally speaking, things that are valuable like jewellery, antiques, silverware or paintings are much easier to deal with. They may well have been bequeathed under the terms of a will or, quite commonly, it may have been arranged in advance that certain items will be given to particular family members. Furniture, electrical appliances and the like can usually be absorbed into the homes of relatives or friends. These are often most welcomed and appreciated by newlyweds just starting to establish their own new home. It’s the less valuable items that are the more problematic. You may not want to keep them but you don’t want to despatch them to a house clearance sale or charity shop.
After all, it’s taken a whole lifetime to amass this completely unique and very personal collection and it seems disrespectful simply to pack it up and lob it out. Filling a skip or consigning the whole lot to a refuse dump seems even worse.
But amongst the sadness and melancholy of emptying drawers and cupboards, clearing out attics and cellars for the very last time, there are surprising moments of happiness and laughter.
When souvenirs from special occasions are rediscovered, a thousand joyous memories can come flooding back. A landmark birthday party, a series of swimming certificates, some fridge magnets, Guide or Scout merit badges, school reports, out of date passports or a postcard that you yourself sent when on a memorable holiday or during a gap year (and boy, are you surprised to see that someone bothered to keep it after all these years).
These tiny details all help us to focus on the most important aspect of all. And that is, very simply, that while a house is made up of bricks and mortar, furniture, carpets and curtains, a kitchen and a bathroom, a home is a place of warmth and love and caring which comes from the people who live there. And when they’re gone from the property, they still live on in our memories and in those memories and the stories we tell to future generations, they will live for ever.
Robin and Patricia Silver are owners of The Home, Salts Mill, Saltaire, www.thehomeonline. co.uk
TIMES REMEMBERED: Love and memories make a house a home.