The Last Goodbye: Clearing Out Our Deceased Daughter’s House

Seventeen months ago our daughter died from the injuries she received in a car crash. Since that tragic accident we have walked with grief every day.  We have also become a GRGs — grandparents raising grandchildren.  My husband and I are the legal guardians of 16-year-old, fraternal twins.  Raising them is our new life mission — a sacred mission — and we will do our best.

We are trying to help the twins deal with their grief, move forward with life, and make new goals.  Clearing out our daughter’s house, the house she and the kids loved so much, has been a heartbreaking experience.  Our grandchildren packed some items and, after that, they didn’t want to go to the house.  Their home had been a happy place, a place filled with love and laughter.

Now it was a sad and lonely place and we had to sell it.

Months ago, rural towns in Southeastern Minnesota were hit by a tremendous flood. Many families lost everything they had and some were still living in government trailers. And so, instead of having an auction, my husband and I decided to donate the contents of our daughter’s home to Rushford Flood Relief.  We discussed the idea with our grandchildren and they approved it.

The contact organization was Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Spring Valley, Minnesota.  Packing items took us several months.  Items that were not designated for flood relief were donated to the Goodwill.  Last Saturday a huge rental truck pulled up in front of the house.  A smiling man with a white beard got out of the truck and introduced himself as the church Pastor.  “This is a sorrowful day for me,” I told him, “and I will cry.”  He understood completely.

Twenty-two church volunteers (youth group and adult members) had offered their help. The president of the congregation gave them loading instructions.  Before the loading began the group gathered together in a prayer circle.  The Pastor asked God to bless the volunteers and thanked our family for its generosity.  After the prayer I added, “Many of you know our story.  Our goal is to make something good from grief.”  Tears trickled down my cheeks as I voiced these words.

Many volunteers thanked us personally for what we were doing.  “There’s a lot of good stuff here,” one said.  “You’re going to help many people.”  The volunteers worked quickly and a “parade” of items went out the door: dining tables, coffee tables, straight chairs, wing chairs, lamps, television sets, computer work stations, dishes, pots and pans, bedding, porch furniture, and more.  Two hours later the truck was packed to the ceiling.

The Pastor locked the back hatch, got into the truck, and slowly pulled away.  I stood in front of the house and sobbed.  Though a few items were still on the floor and the garage wasn’t cleared yet, the last vestiges of our daughter’s daily life were gone.  The next day I received an email from the president of the congregation.

According to him, volunteering had given youth group members a better understanding of compassion and giving.  He went on to say that 10 new volunteers unloaded the truck when it reached Rushford.  Residents of the flooded communities gathered around the truck and took the furniture and labeled boxes they needed.  An hour later — just one hour — the truck was empty.

From the prayer circle, to meeting volunteers, to locking the back hatch, the day was a religious experience.  Giving to others made us feel better and we think it made our grandchildren feel better, too.  James Russell Lowell wrote about giving in the “Vision of Sir Launfal” and we hold his words in our hearts.  He wrote:

Not what we give, but what we share –

For the gift without the giver is bare;

Who gives himself with his alms feeds three –

Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.

Copyright 2008 by Harriet Hodgson http://www.harriethodgson.com

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance nonfiction writer for 29 years.  She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from http://www.amazon.com

You will find a review of the book on the American Hospice Foundation Web site and the Health Ministries Association Web site.  Please visit Harriet’s Web site and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.

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Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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