Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Weight of Memory: Reflections on Selling the Family Cottage

by Meg

We glanced up at the window across the street from the lawyer's office as we exited after signing off on the sale of the cottage that had been in our family since the mid-1940s. "Isn't it interesting that the lawyer's office is right under Mum's old window?" I said to my sister as we got into the car. "It sort of underlines the heaviness of this whole thing, doesn't it?"

She agreed, as we drove away reflecting again on the various stages we had gone through this year and a half since our aged mother died beside that very window, in the seniors' home we had brought her to so that we could be there for her in her last days of terminal cancer. The precious year we had with her before her death was unforgettable. We could not forget either the conversations we had with her about the cottage, the assumptions we had made that we would do all in our power to keep the cottage, preserve it for the future generations.

Yet now we had made this decision, made it in peace and prayer, and the sale had gone smoothly and been a win win for all concerned. The intolerable burden of responsibility had been lifted off our shoulders, and we had given the next generation of family time to realize that what we would have kept alive if we could have afforded it was really only a dream, a version of unreality that we did not want to promote, even a snare and a delusion to bind them into future conflicts, both inner and outer. We did not want to wish on them the carrying of a dream that would turn into a heavy load. Let alone the work and worry.

For me, as I walked up and down the hill at the cottage many times these past few years, I realized more and more that selling it meant saying goodbye to my family system in a way that was very liberating. For our cottage was not just a building and a dock on a lake - it had been part of a network of relatives' cottages, a community that had been both comforting and confining, and, ultimately, a constantly bittersweet place of many melancholy memories. Our cottage experience had bound us into obligations and rituals that often snared and obliged us and taught us the tyranny of family rules that had nothing to do with God's plans for families and their blessings upon the children.

Even the good memories kept me haunted and held, weighed down and reflective. Instead of just enjoying the outdoors and the beauties of nature I was confronted always with scenes from the past...and the ones I treasured most were the most distant...yet even they were full of sadness, the sadness that lay about our extended family like a cloak, the sadness that was sewn into the fabric of our beings from such an early age that it seemed normal.

Now we are free from the physical reminder of all of this...now we just remember, and have more choice, perhaps, about how and what we remember. 'Sometimes the weight of memory is just too much', I had said to myself a few weeks ago. 'Sometimes we need to be free from a place that binds us too closely to those memories.'

I reflect upon how my mother would see things from a heavenly perspective, liberated herself from the family rules, from the obligations that overshadowed so much of her own life. She had also been a sensible person who was willing to encourage others to move on, to make new choices. I cannot help but feel that just as we were free to make this decision because of her death, that she also would be with us in spirit in this choice, that she would not want us to feel guilty or that we had let her down. She might even have said something like I said to myself, knowing what she had learned in her own life but probably could not articulate while she was alive: that we should not live our lives held down or back by the weight of memory.

A Postscript: I would not want you to think I have undervalued the family legacy here. It was a joy to discover what I did share as we left, and will continue to share. I wrote a letter to the new owners and left it with a copy of the booklet my father had written, with my editorial help, of the history of our cottage community, from its earliest connections to the whole history of Muskoka pioneers. I also told them about how my father had made various items of furniture we left in the cottage, and how my mother had made the curtains and bedspreads we left for them too. There were many treasures we took with us, but we left those, and several paintings with interesting connections to our parents. It was a joy to tell these stories, and our agent said it touched him so, and felt we would be welcome visitors to the new owners. With our children we also took many photos of loved places, to keep forever as reminders of all that we loved the best.

Next Saturday I will share the post I wrote on my own personal blog over a year ago, about the great things of that family legacy at the cottage and how I saw them in their best light. That will be a liberating thing for me, now free from the physical burden, to share those good reflections and memories, and choose what I wish to preserve for posterity myself.

4 comments:

Belinda said...

What a generous gift you gave the new owners of your family cottage. I am blown away by that. It is giving in the Spirit of God. He always gives with almost excess (more than we expect or can imagine.) He surprises us with his generosity and delight in giving.

And I loved the line, "we should not live our lives held down or back by the weight of memory."

How true that is, and part of the liberation from memory is speaking or writing it.

Meg said...

You are so right, Belinda, about the last line. Somehow this writing, and even the sharing of the post next week, is part of the liberation, through the honouring of all that was precious and wonderful. Thank you for honouring my expression of this experience.

Marilyn said...

That same line Belinda quoted jumped right off the screen at me. Terrific!

I love that you shared your legacy of story with the new owners.

I am delighted you were able to make this choice and experience freedom thereby. And even better perhaps, peace. At least it sounds that way.

Brian said...

Enjoyed writing your muscular prose as always...for some reason that quote from one of Paul's letters about not the "weight of memory" but the "weight of glory" comes to mind. I've always thought of that phrase as particularly striking and strangely evocative. I wish I could relate it to your blog entry, but at the moment I can't. Just wanted to pass on, I suppose, a phrase that has always struck me as quite powerful and mysterious.