Every time I walk through the basement, I see it there, staring at me. It’s impossible to miss. A mountain of tool cases, buckets, boxes and a shelving unit packed with all my Father’s things. Tools handed down to him from his father, boxes of screws, nails and drill bits, electrical switches and all sorts of telephone equipment. Scattered throughout his work area are reminders he’s scrawled of broken things to fix and things needing to be replenished. A hex key for his drill, marking tape, batteries, a two-pronged plug for an extension cord, a new whet stone, a fiberglass strip for a dust shovel.
This is where my Father would spend his time after lunch or dinner. His mind whirred as he fixed whatever was broken throughout the house or invented new trinkets or gadgets, each with its own unique purpose.
As time marches on, he spends less time here. Sometimes, he isn’t sure this is our house and these are his things. Other times he tries to pack everything up and put it in the trunk of the car so we won’t forget anything “when we go home.”
I could rearrange this place and he wouldn’t know the difference. Maybe that’s why I’m having a hard time with it. I need to start purging everything but there’s something in me that doesn’t want to begin. I know the days of him spending a couple of hours here to tinker have come and gone. And it isn’t that I want a makeshift shrine.
It’s just his space. Where he loved to be. Where he loved to invent and create and work with his hands. Where the wheels turned in his mind and he sorted through projects ~ repairing a birdhouse with a missing roof, gluing a cutting board back together, fixing a curling iron or blow dryer.
This is my Father ~ an analytical engineer who learned to be resourceful at a young age. All of this stuff doesn’t just represent the way he loved to spend his time. It represents all the thinking he used to do, all the problems he used to solve.
I imagine that’s why it’s hard for me. Because this messy mountain of stuff is a link to the Father I knew, the man who’s been taken captive by Alzheimer’s and drained of his memory and cognition. I know what this disease can do to a person. So every thought my Father still has and every word he still speaks is something for which I am grateful.
It’s easy to think we are a collection of our things. But that’s not who we are. Our identity is not about the stuff we love to surround ourselves with. It’s so much deeper than that. Our identity is how we treat people, our personality, what’s in our heart and the uniqueness God created in each of us.
I know this is just part of life. The tearing away of the old and forcing my heart to come to terms with change and move forward. There are much worse things. I still have my Father. And for that I am and will always be incredibly grateful.