It’s time to put my Mum’s house on the market. She lived in it for nearly sixty years so doing what’s necessary to prepare it for sale - stripping away all signs of illness - feels like a betrayal. As if she never suffered. During the past few years, her wish for everything to be in the same room and wherever possible, positioned within arm’s reach, created a radius of clutter but it made sense: despite the exasperating loss of physical autonomy, she could at least control this miniature empire like a crazed despot. However, since few potential buyers are likely to picture their new life in a place so clearly home to someone else’s hell, it all has to go.
First, a team collect the hospital bed, the electric pressure cushions, the oxygen machine and emergency tanks. The wheelchair is taken to a neighbour’s elderly relative. Then I remove the walking frames, the commodes, the many portable electric fires and fans, the grab sticks and sippy cups. Followed by the piles of medication: blister packs, bottles, dosset boxes, syringes. Inhalers in brown, blue and mauve. Tubs and tubes of prescription creams. Tissue boxes, pudgy stacks of wipes, bags of looped cannulas. The broken-off seals of nebuliser vials which have slipped down the backs of chairs and under furniture like plastic confetti.
Then the drug charts, the health visitor files, the allergy warnings on the wall, the notices for carers and nurses with their Please Don’t entreaties. The DNR. The rows of multivitamin and protein drinks, purée sachets and jars. The complete range of plastic bags for differing waste products. The sharps box, the blue gloves and shoe covers, the little pink sponge lollies. The fifteen pillows and cushions of varying density and shape. The blankets and throws in varying weights and sizes. The dozens of balled socks cut at the ankle, hiding in corners.
After a few hours of shifting and disposing, I look at the house again. The dining room has returned, no longer a sick bay. The curtains are open after months of dingy, muted light, and the sun streams in. All the crowded surfaces are now clear except for photos and ornaments. The kitchen was bruised by careless carer use but is at least back to its streamlined self. The loo is no longer public. And the Key Safe box is empty. Now you need an invitation to enter.
I realise - this is Mum’s house as she originally made it. How it was before her illness set in: tidy, calm, bright, welcoming. Where her natural homemaking skills meant that cleaning, gardening, curtain-making, decorating and baking created an atmosphere of warmth and hospitality. I realise the clear-out has not removed her but brought her back.