My grandmother’s basement is, and will always be, where things go to die. Going into grandma’s basement is always an adventure. You never know what joy or heartbreak you will uncover. It’s truly a place where the living meets the dead.
There is one (unspoken) rule to grandma’s basement: it’s never to be spoken of. Our entire family knows the history of the basement and utilizes it when necessary, but we never really talk about it. The history of the basement is a pretty long one, but i’ll give you a sweet summary: It didn’t always serve as a place to house the dead, quite the opposite actually. Grandma’s basement was once a place of beauty. Growing up, I remember my grandfather guiding me to the basement during the warm summer to pick out a shovel and help in the garden. The basement was our first stop before riding the lawn mower, or as I grew older, fixing up cars. But as the years passed, a lot of good times were met with an overwhelming amount of bad. I grew sicker with Crohn’s. My mother? Schizophrenia, and soon my grandparents would be diagnosed with their own chronic, debilitating conditions. The basement, much like the garden, became a desert of dried up hope and lost memories.
I journeyed into my grandmother’s basement for one reason and one reason only: retainers. Was my journey successful? Well, yes and no.
Years ago I went through the most trying, traumatic experiences of my life. A mix of miscarriage and heartbreak, along with an overwhelming battle with depression. After my miscarriage I chose to bury my sorrow, along with my painful memories, deep within grandma’s basement. Other mothers could have certainly benefited from the very things I chose to suffocate underground, but frankly, I felt it was wrong. I despised the idea of cursing another hopeful mother with the very items that brought me so much pain. I’d tried a few times to get them off of my hands, but ultimately, they’d be hit with the same fate as many other things in my life: the basement.
Friendships, lost loves, childhood memories, the possibilities of what you may uncover are limitless. The ocean of memories within this basement run long before my pain, in-fact, many of the memories here were made long before I was. Every box, every bag, representing another era in someone’s life. Another dream, another friend, another love that was once so powerful, so pivotal, we made the conscious decision to grasp what was left of it and hold on eternally.
I said my journey wasn’t successful because I never found my retainers. To be honest, I likely never will. Every year or so I will return down to the basement using the same excuse and ultimately, discover the same truth. — But in many ways, it was successful. Every time I go into that basement I discover something new about myself or a loved one. This time was no different. I discovered who I was at the time of my loss. I found old dishes that were given to me by an amazingly generous woman I’d met for the first time. I found hand-me-downs and even a beautiful dress, I presume for a wedding. – Things I once chose to bury so deep in my mind, I almost began to wonder if these memories were mine at all. I seem so distant from the person I once was. On one hand, I have a burning desire to know this young lady, and on the other, I rejoice in the fact that she is gone.
As I gaze upon the items that once brought me joy, then sadness: the dress, the crib, the rocking chair, I question myself, “what is it that you’re feeling now?” The only word that could come to my mind was: indifferent. I had no feelings for this time in my life or the person I once was. — But as I look around the basement, breathing in the time that has passed and all of the lessons that lay within each stowed away box, all I could feel is gratitude.
To be honest, I don’t know what I believe anymore. Whether it’s God, an “energy,” a force within the universe… whatever it is, I am grateful for “it.” I am grateful for growth and living in the present, as opposed to the past. I am grateful for what is for me and grateful that what is not will be removed from my life. I am grateful for this life and while everything seems so big in the moment, looking around this basement, makes it all seem so small. As though everything I’ve gone through is nothing new. As if my ancestors have carried an even heavier burden than my own and have stored all of the lessons here. For me to understand that, just as they have, I too shall overcome.
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