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For sale: to you it's bricks and mortar, to me it's a treasure chest of memories

THERE are many moments in life that we'd like to push the freeze-frame button on and stay in forever; perfect holidays, newborn babies, the day before you turn 30. However, I didn't expect to walk into the house I'd grown up in and wish for time's giant wheel to stop then and there. Yet here I was; on the verge of packing away most of my early life and preparing the house to be sold.

It was to become someone else's family home ... and that weekend, it was our job to remove all personal traces of our family and our upbringing, and make the house look like it belonged to nobody.

I didn't have much time to drink in those last few moments of the unsullied version of our home as it had stood for decades. The clearing out had already begun in earnest.


Boxes had begun to pile high in the living room; presses and wardrobes were already emptied; the skip in the driveway beginning to fill. All that was left to do was dry our eyes, crack open a bottle of wine and get on with it.

In some ways, the flooding of old memories was a good, positive thing. Through tears, we laughed at primary school reports (I seem to have gone from star pupil to problem child within three terms), Jackie/Shooter/Bunty annuals bought with paper-round money, Communion dresses, old teddy bears.

My mother had an overwhelming instinct to hoard; more than likely aware that she'd never have to remove 40 boxes of family stuff from the attic.


But to be fair, it was as fun as it was physically arduous. Nostalgia is always fun and the Irish have a particular knack for it.

Clearing out your family home may be a rite of passage that most adults have to endure, but the finality of this one small act is a headspin that few see coming.

When my mother died in October, I'd been prepared for most of the rituals that followed; funerals, wakes, memorial masses. I had girded my loins for Christmas and birthdays.

But I hadn't banked on something as simple as putting the family home up for sale to be such an emotional rollercoaster. There were moments of tension that nearly spilled into full-blown rows.

Suffice to say that selling any kind of property in Ireland is painful these days; something fraught with frustration and ... well, what could have been. But it dawned on me that a family home is a port in the storm; somewhere you can escape from the vagaries of life (and in modern-day Ireland, they are coming thick and fast).

Not having that port certainly makes you feel like a proper adult. You're self-reliant and a citizen of the world that isn't tied to any locality. But being rootless is both a good and bad thing.

Like everyone else, my brothers and I took the house for granted while it was ours.

We'd show up for Sunday lunch (hangovers permitting), loll about on the living room sofas and argue over Deal Or No Deal. We all reverted to our surly teen selves once we crossed the threshold and there was no breaking that dynamic.

I'm not sure it occurred to any of us down the years that there was an expiration date on something so banal. But you do become a different person once you enter your family home. It's the place you can be truly yourself ... if 'yourself' is a surly teenager with a secret love of Countdown, so be it.

Only a few people my age have had to sell their family home after a parent's death, and they say much the same thing. It's a phase that bursts open half-healed wounds without any warning.

But it's a sign that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

It's hard to fathom that some other teenager will be going through her own brand of teen angst in my bedroom, or another family will enjoy Christmas in what has long been our living room.


I made the fatal error of looking up our 'for sale' advert online; sure enough, our home had been turned into a 'desirable property' that looked like any other house. It was not a fun moment. If you find yourself in a similar position, avoid this move like the proverbial Bubonic; it's in no way helpful or cathartic.

Naturally, I tried to stave off the inevitable. I considered moving out of the city centre and into our suburban house myself. Anything to avoid the final goodbye.

Yet before she died, my mother reminded us that the house itself is mere bricks and mortar. The memories -- good and bad -- go wherever you do. There is no need to stay out in suburbia just to keep the past from going up in smoke.

As it happened, the house sold in fewer than three weeks, making it a relatively quick and merciless ordeal.

We close in a few weeks; just enough time for one final walk-through. I can't say I'm looking forward to it, but it's a goodbye that must be done.