I feel I ought to break my recent long blog silence with an explanation: we have moved house.
It has been overwhelming. We moved out of the family home in which our children had grown from age 9 and 11 to beyond the point where they’d left home for uni and then into the big beyond.
It was a move that marked the end of an era of family life and it also signalled a new stage in life. We have moved into a vicarage for the first time as I have taken up my first solo vicar position, following what feels like years and years and years of training (7 to be precise). As a result I have spent a lot of time reflecting on loss and letting things go. This process has been amplified (as if by ‘surround sound’) by the fact that my beloved mum moved at the same time from the town she had lived in for over 40 years to come and live nearer to all her children.
For six intense weeks I shuttled 3, 4, 5 or more times a day between the house I lived in (where we were packing and trying to live), the house mum was moving into (being done up by steady stream of decorators, electricians,plumbers etc etc) and the house we were moving into (equal number of contractors needing direction, payment, supervision). All this whilst starting what still feels like the most significant job of my life so far.
There were highs (such as the service for my ‘installation’, a very workplace word, rather appropriate given all the others installations that were going on at the time) and there were lows (such as the day of four deliveries in three different places, two contractors, and one funeral). It just got very, very stressful and if you are a clergy person reading this out there, my advice to you would be: never, ever agree to begin the job before moving into the house.
However we are moved in now, and all is well. The church folk were understanding and even though we broke some things and lost some things along the way, the house is great. Prior to the move we had been pretty ruthless, throwing out a lot of things we never looked at but carefully preserving anything with sentimental or historic meaning. We still filled 168 boxes come the day of the move!
On day one in the house, we began to unpack and sort out. In the lounge, our daughter helpfully boxed up a set of books from our old lounge and labelled them ‘Dad’s boring plane books’. And, for the most part that’s what they were. David, suffering from a ‘let’s throw everything out’ fever brought on by his own doom laden and oft repeated remark ‘where’s it all going to go?’ decided to take said box to the tip and hurled its contents away without so much as looking. Argghhh!
Over lunch half an hour later, the conversation went thus:
Daughter: ‘you didn’t throw those books out did you Dad?’
Dad: ‘Yes of course!’
Daughter: I hope your PhD thesis wasn’t in there?
Around the table it dawned on all three of us that, yes, most likely, knowing the section of shelving that had been given over to Dad’s plane books, the PhD would indeed have been in there somewhere.
Daughter and I headed straight back to the tip, where we spent a dispiriting half hour watching a very helpful crew of recycling employees rake through the contents of the cardboard and paper skip. To no avail, save the sight of a few boring plane books and the rescue of one book about the cosmos, of which I was fond. Lots of sympathy, but no PhD.
To be fair, it’s was hardly a recent piece of work. Completed 27 years ago and never read by any member of the family other than its author. It had been used for at least 5 years as a conveniently heavy object to hold down the lid of the hamster cage. David claimed not to be upset by its loss but Daughter and I returned to our unpacking with heavy hearts.
Over the next few days I couldn’t shake off the sad feeling of having lost something important but quickly realised my sense of loss was out of all proportion. David had moved on cheerfully and ever practical Daughter had taken steps to trace the original piece of work lodged in the University Library and requested that it be digitised (yes, it was written pre computer!).
I think the incident jangled me emotionally just because it seemed to represent all that we were giving up or leaving behind. The empty nest stage of life had been hard enough, but it least we still had the ‘nest’! This move meant change at a whole new level. My feelings were all the more intense because a) I was utterly exhausted after such a long effort to get here and b) there was a daily echo of pain from Mum now moving around her own new house, struggling to hold fallible memories in place and not being able to find her things, wondering if they were gone for good. Previously I had occasionally, and perhaps rather glibly, reminded her that ‘we bring nothing into this world, and we shall take nothing out so it’s best not to get too attached to anything along the way’. Easy for me to say when it wasn’t me looking for that book or trinket or photo that felt so special.
Anyway we moved on and got busy, after all Christmas was coming.
After his last day at the office David came home via Tesco. I was busy cooking and daughter was home as well.
‘You’ll never guess what I found on the shelf at Tescos’ he declared as he pulled out a black hard-back bound copy of his PhD thesis from a shopping bag.
For a few seconds, my mind raced – ‘how on earth did that get from the tip to Tescos?!’
But he was just having us on. He’d spent the day tidying his desk at work, apparently an annual ritual, and … .BEHOLD… a copy of said Thesis was discovered to have been sitting for years and years on his desk! So long that he had completely forgotten that it even existed!
We screamed and yelled and thumped him thoroughly for being so forgetful but of course we were delighted. The ‘IOU one bound copy of your Thesis’ Christmas present from Daughter to Dad had to come out from under the tree, but no one minded that.
Now, oddly, it feels like we have ‘come home’, the sense of loss is lifting (although I still cried at Toy Story 3 yesterday, I just cant bear the moment when Andy gives Woody away having played with him for one last time) and I am embracing our new normality. I am grateful that so many everyday things have stayed the same and new and old friends are close by. We have been overwhelmed by cards and good wishes from friends both near and far. I look around at our freshly painted walls and bless Sarah and the friends from our new church who helped us decorate, to our friend David for clear drains and lots of curtain rails in place. I’m thankful to my brother who masterminded Mum’s move and continues to manage the practical things that are beyond her now. I’m grateful to the kids, it’s been great to have you ‘home’ and good to see you feeling at home in our new surroundings. And my own dear David, what a star… even if he did throw away his own thesis only to rediscover it!
We live as resurrection people: loss will always be followed by life and this is the truth that underpins my life.