When the family finally decided to split the girls up it was pretty much universally decided that we should just rent their house and not sell it. The market being what it is, blah, blah, blah...But what really motivated the decision was that none of us were ready to let it go. Weeks after the accident C, S and I cleaned out Jeanne and Mike's room, bagged up their clothes to donate and pack up special items to save for the girls. Over a bottle of wine we cried, laughed and did the most difficult thing we've ever had to do together. When E and M finally moved in with us last August, we moved all of their bedroom stuff and as much as they wanted to bring in terms of toys, books, bikes, etc. Since that move, the house has been sitting as if no one has touched it. Dishes in the cabinets. Pictures on the walls. Like it was waiting for its family to come home.
We set the goal as a family as April for finally moving forward with renting and cleaning out the house. My dad worked with an agent to find a family to rent and the date was set for June 23rd. After months of learning how to move forward as a family and trying to find some sense of normalcy, the pain and stress of the previous year came rushing back. Despite giving ourselves time and making a solid plan about how we were going to make decisions, it has been an excruciating process. A clean line has been drawn within the family between those who place value and meaning on the things in the house and those that just don't. CA and KM have been plundering the house for months, taking things as they see fit (and then lying about it of course). S and my dad only see the stuff as junk and are amazed at the amount of things a family of 6 had accumulated.
But C and I have been heartbroken over everything. Just because their parents died doesn't mean that E and M's childhood goes away. Unless I specified, toys of theirs were automatically assumed to be donated if CA didn't want them for the little girls. "It's just stuff, " declares S. But I look at the Arthur match game and it reminds me of playing it for hours with E and M and how Jeanne used to play for real and try to win against the kids. I remember buying all of the furniture for E for her Madeline house one Christmas. Jeanne saved all of their artwork and papers from school. I feel responsible as their guardian to also be the guardian of their childhood memories. Our living room is currently filled with toys, dolls, and bins filled with mementos of a childhood once carefree and far from the reality of car crashes and funerals.
Furthermore, we let E have some say in what is being saved and what is being donated and it's the first time she's been allowed to help make decisions in what happens to her family. It was hard for her, but I think an important step therapeutically. To E, it isn't just stuff, it represents her family. It's not just stuff. I'm sorry but it's not. She is old enough and mature enough to be able to make decisions about what she wants to save of her family home.
I know it's not going to bring them back, but being in that house still makes me feel close to them. I can sit in it and fantasize in my mind that they're coming back. Not gone forever. Jeanne and Mike loved that house. Mike put in all the hardwood floors himself. They had a designer work with them on the kitchen and family room. The back yard is awesome. Some of my favorite family memories are of barbecues there, sitting on the back deck watching the kids run around, zoom down the zipline or taunt each other on the badminton court.
Jeanne was such a homebody. She was never truly happy until she was home with her family. Their house and "all their stuff" reflected that. Finally cleaning out the house and actually letting another family live in their house feels like losing them all over again. It's been 18 months since they died and the shock and loss still feel so fresh. I wonder often whether we'll be able to move forward. Will our lives be forever defined by this terrible tragedy. And if it is, is that a bad thing? How could something so devastating not have profound effect on our lives.
It's all just still so sad. I miss them so much. Letting the house go and going through all of their belongings feels like another loss. Another step forward, but another reminder that they aren't coming back.