Grandma's house, after the storm

The following is something I wrote after going to help my mother clean up my grandma’s house one weekend earlier this year. Grandma passed away last October, and some serious family drama kept us out of the house for many months. Grandma’s nephew had been living with her for the last few years, using her for money and a place to live. When he didn’t get what he wanted after her death, he and his sister took matters into their own hands.

This piece is incomplete, but I wanted to share it here for a simple reason: to show the kind of cathartic power journaling can have. I first sketched out pieces of the this in a notebook while C and I were driving home. It was messy and nearly incoherent, but I felt a thousand times better giving my emotions a home on paper. Later, I came back and gave those pieces a little more shape. That’s what we have here.

If you’re facing something stressful or difficult, try writing it out. Don’t worry about making it a complete story or even complete sentences. Just write. I know from experience that you’ll be glad you did.


I walked through the door and immediately noticed the gaping holes where pieces of my Grandma’s home should have been. The couch in the living room was missing, as was the TV. Her chair was gone, too—I found it shoved against the wall in the back room.

The back room was a disaster. The kitchen table had been positioned under the window and was piled high with papers, bits of thread, and random sewing tools. An American flag was crumpled up under a letter sorter. All of her sewing machines were gone, and the tables they’d sat on. Everything that had been in the big entertainment center, also missing, was stacked up in a closet in the bedroom. They’d taken the bed, though, so getting to the closet was a simpler affair than usual.

Something was splattered across the floor in the bedroom—it looked like the dog, Bear, had puked and they hadn’t bothered to clean it up. Actually, the whole house was covered in Bear. Black dog hair was everywhere—there were great clumps of it on the stairs, bits of it along the bottoms of all the floorboards, and a general film of fuzzy filthiness on every surface. I could see strings of slobber on the walls as high as my waist, and everything smelled like dog.

I took a deep breath. So they’d stolen everything valuable and let that animal practically destroy the house. OK. We’d deal with that. But at least they’d left the things that mattered—I could see the pictures still hanging on the walls and a stack of photo albums in the office. I turned to the hall closet to go through the quilts she’d made and stockpiled for years.

“About that,” my mom said. “Be warned, there aren’t many quilts left.”

I thought I must have heard her wrong. Surely they hadn’t taken the quilts. They weren’t worth money—they had only sentimental value. Grandma had sat in that back room, surrounded by her machines, and sewn pieces of fabric together for hours. For days. She’d created huge stacks of those blankets, in a rainbow of colors. There were so many that, even if they’d taken a few for themselves, there should have been dozens left. But when I opened the closet door, I could see that mom was right. There were big empty spaces on the shelves, between stacks of towels and sheets, where the quilts should have been.

I was suddenly hot from the inside out. Tears sprung to my eyes and my knees felt weak. I wanted to scream, to find a rooftop somewhere and proclaim that these weren’t good people. They’d lied, they’d manipulated, and now they’d stolen—and they’d taken not only everything worth money, but the things that meant the most to my heart, too.

I went through every inch of the house that day, searching. I found a couple quilts they’d missed, tucked away under piles of laundry or rolled up in plastic tubs. I found more that Grandma hadn’t finished—patchwork tops without batting or backing or binding. I gathered them all together like precious gems, packed them in a box and vowed to finish them myself.


Love you, Grandma.

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