Lately I have strange dreams of death. In each one, someone close to me (someone different each time) dies and I’m left to sort out the mess. For a self-described packrat, this is a nightmare perhaps worse than death itself as I, grieving, am forced to sort through the ashes of what remains.
In real life, however, this has proven to be somewhat simpler. As you know, my father passed away in November, leaving behind decades of his own packratisms which, compounded by his final months of not being “all there” so to speak, are…how do you say?…a bit messy. They are scattered throughout the garage, the basement, packed in boxes in the guestroom. His shoes are piled on the floor of my parents’ closet; when I first saw them, forgive me, but I was reminded of that exhibit in the Holocaust museum, the one that broke my heart when I saw it, just piles of children’s shoes left behind.
But you can’t take it with you. And though sentimentality has throughout my life tended to get the best of me, I look at my dad’s things and that’s all they are to me: things. There’s a book here, a trinket there, memories that I will collect and display in my own home, or save in boxes for a hypothetical future generation, but for the most part, the things he left behind are just things.
Instead of wanting to bury my nose in his old sweaters, I long just to hear his voice and am eternally regretful of not saving voicemails, taking videos, asking him questions and recording his answers. I put off the idea of interviewing him, thinking I’d have him around for so much longer, that I’m forced to try–mostly in vain–to remember our early morning conversations in his Miata as we drove around searching for yard sales. I don’t remember enough.
Last weekend, my first visit home since his death, my mother and I listened to the few voicemails she had left; racked with encephalopathy, his voice sounds confused, his messages almost funny, but they’re not the Dad I knew. Instead, I long to hear him say “duuuh” just one more term, to mock me, to embarrass me by telling me once again how proud he is of me.
And yet, just as my mother has emerged from sorrow to start seeing the silver lining, I too am able to recognize that had doctors not callously lied to us, tried to protect us from the inevitable, I would have realized sooner that his final days were coming. And so I am less filled with regret and rather, encouraged to start living each day to the fullest, even more so than I already try to do. I am certain now that I’m living it right.
You can’t take it with you, which to me is even more of a reason to ensure you enjoy it right now, whatever “it” may be. It surprises me every day, but I am still whole.