It’s been a month since my father died. It doesn’t seem long. When I was told the news by a police officer at my door I thought I’d take this sort of thing in some dramatic way. I’d drop to my knees, arms outstretched to the sky, it would be cloudy, birds would fly overhead. I’d sob uncontrollably. No. I took it like a lot of other things in life. News. Bad news. I called my boss first to let him know I wouldn’t make it to work for a few days. Made my rounds calling uncles and aunts and cousins. I have no siblings.
It was a great service. Lots of people showed up. My father, extremely active in AA for nearly 20 years, had lots of drunks show up. We had an AA meeting during one of the viewings. My pastor said it was one of the most spiritual things he’d ever been too. A kid from church played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes at the cemetary. It was all very surreal.
But then the business starts. Emptying out the apartment. Calling the creditors. Finding the life insurance. Calling someone to pick up the junk; clothes, shoes, furniture……..shit nobody wants. The majority of it no one wanted. My father had little in way of assets. His TV was mid-80s. He had a 5 year old car. Clothes. A couple board games.
I’ve always been told that garning stuff was pointless. I’ve always believed it too. I’ve read Ecclesiastes 6 dozen times. I thought I got it. I didn’t. I had no idea.
My father was in the National Guard. Had nearly 30 years at Westinghouse as a mid-level manager building radar equipment. Laid off in the mid-90s and went to work for a marketing company. I had to wonder as I looked at the mounds of clothes 6 feet high, the silverware, the furniture: “over 40 years of working and this is it?”
I’m all about math. Let’s say my father earned 30k a year for 40 years. He earned much more than that, especially during his Westinghouse days. $30,000 X 40 = $1,200,000. A closet full of clothes is his best financial asset (minus the life insurance). You’ve got to be kidding me.
What did we keep? Pictures. Loads of ’em. A handgun from a distant cousin who served in WWI plus a helmet and ammo belt. Letters from an old girlfriend when he served in the Guard. Personal stuff, memories, that shit is worth something. The TV my father spent years watching? Off to Goodwill. The clothes? Gone. Furniture? Had it hauled off. Friends, family, good times, are highly valued. I’d kill for 100 more pictures of my father. I recorded his voicemail on he had on his cell phone before I cancelled the service (A generic message where my father only says his name. It’s the only time I can still hear his voice.)
It makes me think of how pointless our consumerism has gotten. We gain all this shit and when you die no one wants it. We want more good times. More memories. More vacations. More ballgames. A chance for my kids to see him at their birthday parties. To know that my youngest children will have memories of him.
I won’t get them.
I thought I had a good grasp on this concept. I thought I really understood it.
I had no idea.
Man that is so tough. I really feel for your loss. I’ve lost my mom, mother-in-law and all of my grandparents, so I know what you’re saying about meaningless possessions. Its so weird to empty out your grandparents house and haul off 80 years worth of accumulation to either the dump or goodwill..
I will keep you in my prayers because the worst part of the grief usually starts after all the business is done up until 6 months and afterward.
thanks for sharing this somasoul. for those of us with our closest relatives still alive and lots of time (hopefully) ahead of us, it is a good reminder to LIVE life to the fullest rather than collect a lot of things.
the other thing i’d recommend to all of us is to write a living will, figure out where your stuff/money can be donated and to design your funeral. i designed mine, and it was a intriguing experience. every once in a while i pull the document up again and tweak it a bit. i think that doing that can help the family out too…but not necessarily.
anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts and emotions.
I feel for you. That’s devastating. Thanks for putting your experience into words, into a story.
Thanks for writing this, Somasoul. It’s powerful. I’ll share it with others.
Thanks Somasoul, this is a really moving piece. I appreciate your openness and clear sightedness. It’s a very good reminder of what really matters.
It’s times like this when Ecclesiasties makes the most sense. And thank God for the “meaningless” passage–it gives me hope that though the writer felt like everything we meaningless, God was in there somewhere.
For what it’s worth, this is the same book that gave us “for everything there is a season”.
Prayers for you and you sludge through an apartment full of shit and a lifetime of memories (not to mention your own grief process)
Hey guys, thanks for your kind words.
I finished clearing out the apartment today. It was weird to see it all empty knowing all that stuff was in a dumpster or given to a charity or divided up between family members.
Our society, maybe all societies, really herald consumption as the way to live. We want better clothes, nicer cars, stylish hair. We are sold on products everyday, everywhere. None of those things really make life much better, do they?
I tend to think that it is wise to have some level of cynicism, doubt, and reflection on the meaningless as modeled in Ecclesiastes. The use of doubt (what I name as “gentle cynicism”) is an effort to do the serious business of “living” that shoots through relativism, materialism, and nihilism in an effort to sustain the transformative process that is fed on intuition and imagination and thus generating once in awhile significant leaps of illumination.
Feel free to converse with me at http://gentlecynic.blogspot.com
Thank you for telling your story. I love the book THE WORLD LAST NIGHT AND OTHER ESSAYS BY C.S. Lewis. The next time you are in the book store read the chapter Good Work and Good Works. It speaks to the blind materialism that has hijacked our society. I am 41 and have 6 children all under 12. When my first son was born I decided that my wife and family were more important than that starter home, retirement savings and rest of middle class America. Its not been easy: The polite disdain we get from family and people in the church over our decision to do it this way has been overwhelming. We know that the memories we are depositing in their hearts and minds will take them further than material goods ever will.