Category Archives: Death

Deconstructing A Life

So it’s been a couple of days since I’ve last been here. What, you think it’s been more than a couple of days? Really? Maybe you’re right. I’ll have to count on my fingers to check. Sometimes life gets in the way or I get distracted.

My mother in law passed away this past fall at the age of 93 and so we spent the rest of the year going through her home and preparing it for sale. Not an easy task. My father in law passed away twenty-six years ago and so she’s lived in this home for the last sixty years. Up until recently she was able to take care of herself but the last year and a half required some help. Her home was always meticulous, even at the very end. The only problem was, she never threw anything away. I think that’s somewhat common for that generation, who came from a time when everything had value. Nothing was wasted or discarded needlessly. Nothing had a shelf life. It’s something I understand but it didn’t make the process any easier.

We sometimes didn’t know, going through her belongings, what had real value, sentimental or otherwise. Did it have special meaning to her, was it worth something, or was it an item that was given away for free at gas stations back in the day. Some things were obvious, some not so much. And what about the photos of people from so long ago that we didn’t recognize. Did the people in the photo hold special meaning to her? Did they remind her of a special time? What do we do with them now?

And here’s where deconstructing a life comes into the conversation. Here are the decisions we had to make, whether they seem logical or not. We kept quite a few things, as did our children, who wanted remembrances of their grandmother. We donated quite a bit to various charities. We sold a few things. And unfortunately, we ended up tossing some things. For some reason, the photos were sometimes the toughest decisions to make. It seems sacrilegious to throw them out but why keep photos of people we don’t know, and if we do keep them, you just leave it for the next person to deal with when we’re gone.

The whole thing was just so surreal. I’ve known my wife since third grade and have been going to that house for over fifty years. I spent more time there over the years than in the home I grew up in. I knew every corner and almost every story. To take it apart seemed like a violation of her life. Every day another piece was gone, until nothing remained but the shell. Until the home became a house. A property to be sold.

But it seemed even more than that and I’m not sure it’s easily explained. It’s like someone who existed a short time ago, no longer does. Her “stuff” is gone. I understand about the memories we”ll have to hold onto and the items we have to remind us of her life, but there is a big difference between the body and the soul of a person. In certain homes, filled with years of love and memories, I believe the same holds true. Strip away what made it special, and the deconstruction is complete. Emptying that home was like emptying a life. It’s a strange feeling and I’m sure many of you have gone through similar moments over time.

When we were done, I joked with my wife about what our children may think or say when their time comes to do the same thing. What questions they’ll have that may remain unanswered. What photos they’ll find and wonder who those people were. What decisions they’ll have to make and if sentimentality or practicality will be the deciding factor. Probably a little of both.

I just know that a few days after we finished up we started going through our own home. If we can make it a bit easier for our children when the time comes, all the better. I just don’t want to make it too easy. After all, what fun is life without leaving  some mystery and unanswered questions about your parents. I might even plant a few things around just to keep the conversation interesting. I wouldn’t want them to forget us easily.

It’s nice to be back.

 

Living With Dreams

 

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” 
James 4:14

Thirty-nine years ago today my father passed away suddenly, less than a day after we buried my thirty-two year old brother-in-law who died of cancer. When you spend a week and half sitting in a funeral home making final arrangements for two people of your immediate family, life has a way of changing you. Not immediately, and sometimes not even in ways you can understand or explain. But it does change you.

It’s hard to believe so much time has gone by and even more difficult to think about everything they missed and everything we missed sharing with them. We lost a part of our future and past in a matter of days. I don’t know if we ever really recover from loss or just throw a blanket over it to allow us to function each day. We carry on, we laugh, we welcome new family members, we enjoy life because there is no other choice. We live for the living and for ourselves. Still, there’s always a hole, always moment in days where we stop and maybe smile at a memory or what they might have done or said about a family situation. Or the way life has changed so much over the years.

Here’s the strange part of the story…

A couple of weeks before my Dad died, I had a dream. In my dream, I saw him in a coffin at the funeral home, exactly as he appeared after he passed away.
Ten years earlier, my grandfather, (my father’s father), died unexpectedly. A couple of weeks before he died, I had a dream. In that dream, I saw him as he appeared in the coffin. My grandfather lived in Brooklyn so I had never been to that funeral parlor. And yet, when I walked in, everything was as I had seen it. In detail. I remember it very clearly.

A couple of days after my father was buried, I told my mother about both dreams. For obvious reasons, I had never told anyone about them before. She wanted to know why I didn’t tell her. She wondered if there might have been something we could have done if she had known. But as soon as she said the words, she understood.

You can’t alter your life chasing those types of dreams, just like you can’t alter your life chasing what might have been. There’s no time for that, no secret recipe for the secrets of life.

So hold the ones you love close. Those that are here and those who are not. And if the ones who are here don’t understand, hold them closer.