Cleaning the house of our deceased daughter: the last goodbye


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

We are trying to help the twins cope with their pain, move on with life, and set new goals. Cleaning our daughter’s house, the house that she and the children loved so much, has been a heartbreaking experience. Our grandchildren packed some items, and after that, they didn’t want to go home. Their home had been a happy place, a place full of 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 owned and some still lived in government trailers. So instead of having an auction, my husband and I decided to donate the contents of our daughter’s house to Rushford Flood Relief. We discussed the idea with our grandchildren and they approved.

The contact organization was the Lutheran Church of Our Savior in Spring Valley, Minnesota. Packing the items took us several months. Items that were not designated for flood relief were donated to 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 pastor of the church. “This is a sad day for me,” I said, “and I will cry.” Fully understood.

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

Many volunteers thanked us personally for what we were doing. “There are a lot of good things here,” said one. “You are going to help a lot of people.” Volunteers worked quickly and a “parade” of items came out the door: dining tables, coffee tables, straight chairs, wing chairs, lamps, televisions, computer workstations, plates, pots and pans, bedding , porch furniture and more. . Two hours later, the truck was packed to the roof.

The pastor closed the rear hatch, got into the truck, and drove slowly away. I stood in front of the house and sobbed. Although there were still some items on the floor and the garage was not yet clean, 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 members of the youth group a better understanding of compassion and generosity. He went on to say that 10 new volunteers unloaded the truck when it reached Rushford. Residents of flooded communities gathered around the truck and took the furniture and labeled boxes they needed. An hour later, just an hour, the truck was empty.

From the prayer circle to the volunteer meeting to the closing of the rear 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 “Sir Launfal’s Vision” 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 naked;

He who gives himself with his alms feeds three:

Himself, his starving neighbor, and me.

Copyright 2008 by Harriet Hodgson

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