There are five rooms that make up my mother’s flat and it seems every single inch of it is packed to bursting point with papers, clippings, pictures, photographs, statements, communications from the local state and utilities, accumulated thank-you letters from grandchildren, mother’s day and birthday cards, news papers, magazines, recipes, doodles and letters.
Doreen lived here alone since she and my father separated circa 1984 but prior to that, this was where Lesley and I grew up. Those days are forever tainted by unhappy memories of a father who beat his wife and terrorised his children with all kinds of psychological cruelty.
This is perhaps why Lesley and I have been able to be in the flat without falling prey to sentiment. Although it was my mother’s place it was, for us, shared with something darker whose stain still pervades the place and made us workmanlike when it came to taking it all apart.
Every day since scattering Doreen’s ashes near Warkworth, Lesley and I have been sorting and sifting through the various items that build up over a lifetime like verdigris creeps across metal. To be fair it’s Lesley who has done the bulk of it, opting to sleep at the flat in order to be able to put long, long hours as a means of drawing a line under this part of the process of someone’s passing as quickly as possible. I’ve been something of a day-tripper in this respect spending mornings or afternoons assisting with the sort on a pro-rata basis.
The week was broken in part by one or two of my mother’s friends who called in to help and take something from the place before it all goes. All the grandchildren came to take their trinkets to remind them of their times spent in these rooms.
For them the space has nothing but positive associations, happy times spent playing games, reading, painting and drawing, camping out under the vast imagination that can transform a few upturned chairs and old sheets into exciting adventures and journeys. Their presence and their memories neutralise our wariness and help redeem the space which has made the task a lot easier than it might have been.
Today Lesley and her family drove off home leaving me to sort out the final pick-ups – furniture and the like - expected this week. Once these are done we can close the flat and draw a line under that part of our lives.