These past few weeks, while we have been living back in my childhood suburb, I have found myself spending a lot of time stuck in the past. We lived in three different houses here – the first house when I was seven and the third house I left when I was 19.
My entire family left at the same time, actually, and when my father died five years ago my parents had spent 11 years away from this suburb. So why has his death been haunting me during my stay here? We’re living in my grandfather’s house surrounded by my grandmother’s crockery, glasses, furniture and photographs yet it’s my father’s presence I feel most strongly.
Driving here late and alone the other night, I couldn’t help but take a detour towards the last house we lived in. To get there I had to pass another house once owned by close family friends, one of whom died the year after my father. They hadn’t lived in the suburb for years either, except their house looked just the same. A new family now live in their house and mine, yet it wouldn’t have surprised me to knock on the door that night and have these friends open it with welcoming arms. It also wouldn’t have surprised me to have seen my father sitting on the balcony of our old house, a glass of red in hand.
I was and am constantly surprised at how grief works; how it sits bubbling away just under the surface no matter how much time has passed. I am also surprised at how often I am now drawn to books that explore this most powerful of emotions.
Coincidentally, while staying here, I bought Kim Edwards’ latest book The Lake of Dreams. I enjoyed her first book, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, immensely and bought the second without knowing anything about it.
I say coincidentally because it just happens to be a book about an adult daughter returning to her childhood home, haunted by the death of her father 10 years previously. The book is filled with clever observations about life, growing up in a family full of secrets, living in a small town but what resonated most deeply was Edwards’ descriptions of grief. More specifically, how their grief affected the home...
“I felt myself drawn back to the summer after my father’s death. We’d gone through our days doing our usual things, trying to create a fragile order. We made meals we hardly touched, and passed in the halls without speaking; my mother started sleeping in the spare room downstairs, and began to close the second floor down, room by room. Her grief was at the centre of the stillness in the house, and we all moved carefully, so quietly around it; if I allowed myself to weep or rage, everything might shatter, so I held still. Even now, when I went back to visit I always felt myself falling into those old patterns, the world circumscribed by loss.”
It amazes me that more homes don’t fall down under the weight of the emotions we leave imprinted on their walls.