Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

You Can’t Take It With You

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.

6 Comments

  1. UGK said it best: “Live every day like it’s your motherfuckin last one” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzkvvAGcoqc

  2. Letting someone we love is always hard. Maybe we can’t take it with us, but cherished memories are forever.

  3. lovely reflection, Jillian

  4. I’ve taken care of a lot of Hospice patients and you really can never tell when someone is going to pass. I’ve seen people start to actively die and then after weeks of not eating, suddenly pull out of it. I’ve had patients just put on Hospice and within hours pass away. Families, no matter what all they have done for their family member, always feel some sort of regret and that’s normal. I’m glad to hear you are feeling better!

  5. No more will you knock at our door.
    No more will you walk on our floor.
    No more will you drink our tea.
    No more will you see what we see.
    No more will you hear what we hear.
    No more will you fear a fear.
    No more will you shed a tear.
    No more will you enjoy our foods.
    No more will you tread our roads.
    No more will you roam our woods.
    No more will you inquire after me.
    No more will you smile at me.
    No more will you call my name,
    But all the same
    And despite all the pain
    You stood to gain
    When you clearly said
    Just days before you were dead:
    أشهد أن لا إلاه إلا الله
    و أشهد أن محمدا رسول الله
    اللهم لك الحمد على ما أعطيت
    اللهم لك الحمد على ما أعطيت
    اللهم لك الحمد على ما أعطيت
    You said it yourself, dad,
    And we were all, all sad
    For we feared time might be up, father,
    And you wouldn’t go farther.
    It’s hard, hard, hard
    To bear to see you there
    In the graveyard –
    While we are here,
    Where we can’t hear
    Your voice or see your smile.
    But it’s only a while
    And we shall all be there!
    I know your bones may decay
    I know the worms may eat your flesh away,
    But your soul will remain whole
    And one day you will revive
    And stay alive
    For ever and ever.
    And I know also
    That we shall all go:
    No money will keep us for ever.
    No medecines will keep us for ever.
    No doctor will live for ever.
    Praise to Allah Who never dies!
    Praise to Allah Who made Paradise!

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