I began writing this post two weeks ago and it started out as a bile-filled rant about various family members who shall remain nameless (my brother, his missus, their two kids) coming down for the funeral then going through the house like a plague of locusts - coked up locusts - participating in a particularly enthusiastic episode of Supermarket Sweep.
They asked if it was ok to take most of the things they took, but some things they took but didn't ask about, and one or two things they asked about and I said I wouldn't mind them myself but they took them anyway.
After two days of constant "Can I take this, can I take that?", tipping point was reached on the Sunday night when I realised the kitchen was being systematically emptied of anything useful by my brother's missus; the 5-year-old had claimed and was zooming about with an ancient Airfix model of a Lancaster bomber despite my protestations; and I found Ted stuffed headfirst into a wicker wastepaper basket with Mum's sugar bowl thrown on top of him, waiting to be taken out to my brother's car for the drive back to Bristol.
The sugar bowl was the mainstay of life at Mum and Dad's over the preceding 43 years. If our family had a totem, this would be it.
Ted, of course, had been my trusty companion in the fortnight leading up to the funeral.
(Technically, he does belong to my brother because when my brother was small he'd whinged about not having a teddy bear and Dad had handed Ted over, BUT my brother left home in 1976 and Ted remained at the house, gathering dust.)
The bin was neither here nor there, but they hadn't asked me if it was ok to take any of these items and what with the ADHD 5-year-old and the general atmosphere of greed and lawlessness, that was the moment it all got too much.
I retreated to my room and bawled my eyes out for an hour. When I stopped crying, I thought if I stayed in there long enough, they might go home. So I sat very quietly for another hour.
Eventually I realised they weren't going to go home until I came out of my room. So I marched downstairs and in a quavering voice suggested they might like to leave Ted behind because he wasn't quite ready to go yet, and could they also please leave me a saucepan because had they forgotten I was going to be staying there for a bit while I worked on emptying the house?
They looked at me as if I was insane (and at that moment, I probably was), fetched me Ted and a saucepan and then, thank fuck, they left.
The following week, I realised those two hours I'd spent in my room avoiding their "Can I take?" questions had been a terrible mistake.
Each day unearthed more and more things that weren't there anymore: the most astonishing being the potato peeler - the potato peeler! - and the most hurtful being a cheerful pukeko garden ornament I'd bought Mum and Dad from New Zealand - special to me, meaningless to them.
Each time I discovered a new absence it was a cold shock, like betrayal, then meltdown into a spitting ball of self-righteous fury.
I bitched about it to anyone who'd listen. I mean, really bitched about it. My sister bore the brunt:
How DARE they take stuff without asking? How dare they come here and help themselves to whatever they want then just fuck off and leave me and you to do the dirty work of actually clearing the house? What makes them think they're entitled to any of this stuff anyway? Brother left home when he was 16 and never came back. He's done fuck all to help Mum and Dad, EVER. Nothing. He's working, his missus is working, they can afford to buy things. They've got an established house already yet they clear this place of anything useful while I've been on £55 a week for a YEAR because I've been LOOKING AFTER DAD and have gone through HELL doing so and my new bedsit has nothing in it and they KNOW that because they've BEEN there so how come they think they need these things more than I do? Did they even ASK you if they could take any of what they took? I told them to clear EVERYTHING with you as well as with me. I can't believe they took things without asking. I can't believe they took the bins. I can't believe they took the POTATO PEELER. What the fuck do they need another potato peeler for? The PRICKS. The fucking insensitive PRICKS.
But days passed, and slowly it began to sting less. They'd been so excited about having all these nice things for their new home. They'd started out scrupulously enough, listing items they wanted to take, and checking with me about each one. It'd just got a little out of control towards the end. They'd probably asked my sister while I was upstairs and she'd said 'take whatever you like', not realising it was ripping my heart out.
I could have - should have - spoken up at the time: told them to slow down, what was the rush, there was plenty of time to sort everything out, instead of getting overwhelmed and disappearing.
Our family: always useless at communication.
They hadn't cheated me out of anything. I was getting mad and bitter over stuff, like some crazy person. They were lovers of stuff, avid collectors of it, whereas I had regular Labyrinth-style get-rid-of-it-all-it's-meaningless-junk moments.
I realised that if they ever found out how angry I'd been, all the pleasure they were ever going to take in these objects would be immediately replaced by guilt and unhappiness.
I had no desire to do that to them. Why ruin Mum's sugar bowl and everything it stood for? Why spoil the delight in the cheeky pukeko? The things in that house weren't mine. I had no special claim to anything, just because I'd lived there longer than my brother and sister. Both Mum and Dad would've been hideously upset by the inglorious sentiment I was spouting - they were generous to a fault, would've given everything away without batting an eyelid.
I felt ashamed of my ugly outbursts, and swore my sister to secrecy - "Never mention this to them, ever! Please, let them enjoy their treasures."
(Apart from the potato peeler, obviously. I hope it claims at least a finger.)
I returned to the first draft of this post, and rewrote it.
Because you know what?
It's only stuff.
Fuck it, I was only going to get rid of it anyway.