My Nanna’s house has been up for sale for a month or so now. She’s lived in a care home since the end of last summer. It wasn’t an easy decision, for her to move there, but there were just too many falls, too many frantic phone calls in the middle of the night, too much confusion, too much worry. She wasn’t safe anymore.
While her house is on the market, we’ve decided to live in it for a while: Me, my wife and my son. It felt important to be here, to prepare her home for the new people that will one day live here and call it home, to honour and nurture the house in the time between what was and what is to come.
I find myself walking around the house a lot, opening cupboards here and there, my fingers trailing along surfaces, remembering the times I spent here as a little girl, sat on a stool in the kitchen watching my Nanna, apron on, hunched over the gas stove, the steam cooker whistling and steaming up the single-paned window.
I looked out of that window today. The back garden looks exactly the same as it always has. It’s funny how so many things have changed over the years in this house, and yet the garden remains as it always was: A tree with red berries, some hedges, a lawn that becomes so water logged it’s impossible to walk on it during the rainy winter months of Northern England.
I lived in this house on and off during my twenties. I’d often arrive with a hastily packed bag. Clothes chucked in. A book. Some shoes. It was a turbulent time. A time that I am still, nearly twenty years on, gently unpacking, examining and healing from.
My Nanna wasn’t—and isn’t—an emotionally warm woman. When I visit her in the care home I always tell her I love her and she tells me she loves me too, but those very words, I love you, leave her mouth in an awkward, almost startled way, as if she is surprised by my expression of tenderness towards her as she volleys her I love you right back.
For all that she lacked in warmth towards me, she made up for in matriarchal steadiness and practical generosity. She opened her home to me during so many times in my life when I quite literally and emotionally had no home to go to. I felt safe here. I still do.
And I am grieving.
I am grieving the end of this chapter of my life in this house, and also the end of my Nan’s life here too. She won’t return to her home to say goodbye. “It’ll be too hard for her” the carers warned me. I asked her anyway. “Do you want to go back home, Nan, to see your house? I can take you,”
She’s stoic. Always has been.
And so I am saying goodbye to her home for both of us. The home where my Mum lived as a teenager. The home my sister and her children also spent so much time. The home where my son now lives, for a few months at least. The home where we’re still making new memories, the three of us, even as our time here now feels so final.
People have started to come and view the house. I always leave when they do. But on my return, I see their shoe prints on the carpets I hoovered moments before they arrived and trace them around the house; I can almost hear their conversations with the agent as they move from room to room, “How many square feet is this house?” “Is there room for negotiation on the price?” “How old is the boiler?”
My dear old Nan’s home, reduced to nothing but mundane questions and tape measuring and dull conversations about room dimensions.
I sat on the tired, old brown sofa in her living room this afternoon and like most days, I whispered a thank you to the house. I also bought some flowers and arranged them in various glass vases I dug out from the back of the cupboard and shined the kitchen sink so that I could see my face in it.
I will keep tending to the house.
And I will keep tending to my grief.
A grief that ebbs and flows and points me to the home within me.
Over and out.