PEI

Farmhouse project helps siblings look underneath the layers of their parents' lives

COVID-19 got in the way of the Arsenault family grieving their parents, but a project to explore and restore their old farmhouse is helping them deal with the loss.

‘We got sort of a little obsessed with renovating, restoring'

Nathalie and her two siblings Isabelle and Mathieu at work in the home where they all grew up. (Project Meadowbank/Instagram)

COVID-19 got in the way of the Arsenault family grieving their parents, but a project to explore and restore their old farmhouse is helping them deal with the loss.

Robert Arsenault died in December 2019. His wife Rita Schyle-Arsenault followed in early March. Her funeral, scheduled for March 15, was cancelled.

"Everything was organized but we had to cancel because we didn't know how big this COVID thing was," said their daughter, Nathalie Arsenault.

"We had so much stored emotion and we really didn't know what to do with it."

No decisions have yet been made about what to do with the old house. (Project Meadowbank/Instagram)

For a time they just sat with it, their grieving in a kind of hiatus like so much else during the pandemic. Dealing with the now empty family home, a 150-year-old farmhouse in Meadowbank, P.E.I., was also on hold.

Arsenault said there was a lot to deal with.

"There's a lot of things," she said.

Their father's workshop remains as evidence that he loved to work with his hands. (Project Meadowbank/Instagram)

"My parents kept almost everything for 40 years and beyond. Even things that they brought back from Montreal and that my grandfather had from Germany. It's just incredible the things that are in there."

The pandemic slowed down that process as well. Travel restrictions prevented the whole family from getting together. Arsenault said once they got started on sorting out what was in the house, it turned out to be difficult to stop.

"We got sort of a little obsessed with renovating, restoring, and finding out what was underneath the layers of flooring and walls," Arsenault said.

This matchbook was connected to the Arsenaults' grandfather's business. (Project Meadowbank/Instagram)

"Nothing was planned. It just sort of kept going as we were moving through this year of grief, and trying to figure out what is next."

Both of her parents liked to have projects on the go, and a lot of what they are finding is unfinished projects, or items kept for future projects. Sorting through these things is helping her to learn a lot about her parents, she said.

Arsenault has begun to document the experiences of going through the old family home on Instagram in an account called Project Meadowbank.

"I feel like it helps me heal and grieve to share a lot of these memories," she said.

When it came to flooring, the Arsenaults were often literally digging through the layers. (Project Meadowbank/Instagram)

"It makes me feel less alone going through it."

The process continues, she said, and there have still been no decisions made about what to do with the old home.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning

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