He came to the building intent upon purchasing a monument for himself and his wife. She had died just over a year before, and he’d thought about it often enough, but folks kept telling him they’d help him with it . . . but that’s all they ever did. He wanted a family member to come with him to help him make the decisions—and they said they would—but they never actually found the time. He knew everyone was busy. He knew everyone only thought about those things when they saw him, but still . . .
He needed to clean out the closets and put away some things. He needed to rid himself of things she’d bought that were just for her that he would never in a million years use. There were folks who said they’d come and help. There were folks who said they’d like to go through her clothes because they wore the same size. And he didn’t have a problem with that; it was better than him having to do it all. But all they ever did was talk about it; no one ever landed on his doorstep for the express purpose of carrying something . . . anything . . . away. He knew they might have changed their minds or felt awkward after they’d asked on the spur of the moment, but still . . .
She’d been sick for years . . . long, tiresome years where he’d cared for her and watched her slowly slip away. There were days she’d look at him and tell him she knew when she was gone he’d just throw her stuff away, like it didn’t mean anything. And now that she was gone, and he was trying to find others who could use what she had accumulated, her words rang in his ears. She had staked a claim in that part of his memory and, no matter how hard he tried, the guilt would creep in whenever he tried to move something out. He knew they were just things. He knew she would never need them again, but still . . .
I’m pretty sure he talked for at least 30 minutes, talked about the struggle of living without her and dealing with everything she’d left behind. As he left he expressed his appreciation for our time and our willingness to listen—and I wanted a magic wand so I could wave it over his house and make everything better. Shoot . . . I can’t even manage to go through my own mess but I wanted to follow him home and help him wade through hers.
There’s a lot more to death than memorializing the life and/or disposing of the remains, a lot more than just planning a funeral or choosing a cremation or even both. There’s all the stuff . . . all the paperwork that must be completed and forms that have to be filed. There are accounts to be closed and material possessions to be distributed or discarded or simply stored away, hopefully so a future generation can use them, but more likely for eventual tossing. One can only keep so much ancestral stuff before a house becomes a museum that’s bursting at the seams.
It’s hard to let go of something, especially if you know it was important to someone you loved. So for those of us who might be doing the leaving sooner rather than later, perhaps a good house cleaning is in order (I am now going to hear from both my children . . .). Keep what’s important and, if you can’t bring yourself to get rid of the rest, at least let the future responsible parties know what came from their great-great-grandmother and what came from eBay. And then give them permission to let go of whatever they need to when the time comes.