Monday, February 28, 2011

Holding On, Letting Go

You can't take it with you. This means it's all left behind for someone to manage.

When someone dies, it generally goes one of two ways- either there are surviving family members living in the home, or someone has a full house to empty. This can be a herculean task. It's not just a physically demanding job. It's an emotional minefield. Everything you touch is a reminder of the person who has died. It can be overwhelming to deal with your grief while tending to the business of death.

Notify friends and family, call the insurance agent, get the death certificate, plan the funeral, etc., etc., and then face reality. You will have to dismantle their environment. Their house is not a shrine. It has to be sorted through. This means moving their glasses from where they were left by the bed. Finding a new home for their pet. Disposing of their medications. Soon, it no longer smells like them. You stop listening for their car in the driveway. You remove the tape from their answering machine because hearing their voice on the greeting is more than you can take. It's no longer their house. It's your job.

Now you must make the same decision for every single item in the place- to keep, or not to keep? My father died as I was getting ready to move 2,000 miles away. This meant I had a short time to deal with two houses. Ultimately, I whittled my father's belongings down to 10 boxes, 2 crates and one large trunk full of letters, pictures, and books. I'd ship it all to our new home and deal with it there. Well, that was almost ten years ago and I still haven't finished. In fact, I've barely started.

Without the deadline looming overhead, I guess I've found it easier to procrastinate than finish. To make it even more complicated, much of what I saved belonged to my father's grandparents. It's like a time capsule from Portland, Oregon, circa 1900. After one aborted mission to donate much of it to the Oregon Historical Society, I once again packed it up and vowed to "get it done" another day.

That day has arrived. To begin, I am separating personal items from historical items. This means keeping certain letters and pictures and ebaying the rest. Simple, right? Not so much. Let me tell ya, it's one big gray area. Even when I do determine which is which, it still presents certain challenges. For instance, last week I put a postcard from 1907 on ebay with a starting bid of $5. The next day I noticed another seller with the same card had his up for $150. Sigh.

I am DETERMINED not to give up again, though. I remind myself that nothing is to be gained by hanging onto all of this. It doesn't prove how much I loved my dad, it's not a sign of my loyalty or respect, and it doesn't guarantee my children will appreciate it one day, either. I keep in mind the risks of water damage, fire, and theft. Nope, holding on is not a good plan. I renew my resolve to showcase the most meaningful pieces and sell or donate the rest.

It's not easy, but I know it needs to be done. After all, if I don't, my kids will simply take my place in this dilemma.

What have you kept? What was hardest for you to give up? What advice do you have for others in this situation right now?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dad, Valentine's Day and Family Lessons

Daddy's Girl

I admit it. I was always a daddy's girl. Don't get me wrong. I was very close to my mom, too. I was lucky. I had two loving, involved parents. Still, my dad and I were tight. When my parents split, I couldn't bear to see him alone, so I left our cushy family home and slept on the lumpy couch of his rental house. I sought his approval and was always thrilled to see him in the audience of a school play or the sidelines of a little league game.

My dad always bought sentimental Valentine's Day cards for my mom, sister and me. The serious, mushy kind. I remember one year his girlfriend bought funny cards for them both to sign. I eventually worked up the nerve to tell him I missed the old ones. He smiled and said he liked those better too, and went back to them after that.

I could always count on my dad to be my biggest fan. He encouraged my love of cooking, eating anything I made. No matter how it turned out, he always claimed it was the best he had ever tasted. Over the years, I sang in a few bands. My dad saw me perform with all but one of them, often driving for hours to catch a show. Once I began writing music seriously, he would listen carefully to every demo. Without fail, he would predict, "Now, THAT'S a hit!"

It was a good life, knowing my dad would always support my dreams, celebrate my successes, and be my safe harbor no matter what.

You know what happens next, though. One night, a few hours after calling just to say hi, he died. No warning. No chance to say goodbye. After a full day's work, he simply went home, got into bed and died.

That was ten years ago, almost to the day. I'm not going to tell you there's no more sadness. There will always be tears to fight back when I see father-daughter Valentine's Day cards. I still catch myself wondering what he would have thought of something I'm doing, but I try and honor him in ways he would have liked. I celebrate his memory with my husband and children, whom he loved deeply. I pass down the lessons he taught me.

My mother died ten years before him. After months of tearful calls from me, he told me something I'll never forget. He said his own mother had shared these words after his beloved grandmother died. She explained he was still Grandma's special boy, but told him, "Life is for the living."

Life is for the living? This stopped me cold. Why, after a lifetime of constant encouragement and love, would he say something so heartless to me? I didn't understand at the time. It was too soon, perhaps, to accept the gift. He was right, of course. What sounded void of that encouragement and love I'd come to expect was actually full of both. He was putting me back on track. Later I thanked him and we had a beautiful talk about losing our mothers. I was struck at both the depth of his years-old grief as well as his ability to live fully in spite of it.

While going through his things, I found a Valentine he made for his mother when he was five. It was serious and mushy. She saved it, he saved it, and now I save it. Like the Valentine, her lessons are still in the family.

Life is for the living, I am still Daddy's girl, and Valentines should be mushy.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Are you sure, Amazon??

Sorry For Your Loss: What..." is currently ranked #25,821 out of over 8,000,000 books. (updated hourly)

This is from Amazon. This number sent me into what can only be called a state of euphoria.

25,821, you ask? This is exciting? I understand you never hear anyone chanting, "We're 25,821! We're 25,821!", but out of 8 million? Well now, that's different!

For me, it comes down to this- it's getting where we hoped it would. There are other people who felt the same need I did to reach out and connect while grieving, and maybe they're making those connections in the book. I wanted that reassurance that what I was feeling wasn't unusual, or weird, or unhealthy. 25,821 tells me I may have struck a chord. Sharing our personal grief experiences helps! There's comfort in knowing we're not alone. Maybe misery really does love company.

Maybe there's strength in numbers.

When someone dies, (other than attending the service), I do this for the family-