Marked by Impermanence

We have entered the stage of death in which we divide up his earthly possessions. I have always hated this part of death.  I have never lost anyone so close to me, but it always seemed to me that people grasped onto meaningless trinkets and baubles. It seemed so abhorrent to focus on what we individually get from the deceased. What really mattered were memories of and with that person, and yet, I’ve seen so many families (my own included) tear each other apart over pieces of what is left.

Losing him has given me a new perspective.  For the first week and a half after his death, I found it nearly impossible to leave his house.  I’d panic, sick and frightened, if I was gone for too long. I’m not sure what brought that on, but part of me was waiting for any sign of him, and I was terrified that if I was gone for too long, I’d miss it.

So when it came to his belongings, I had somewhat of a blind spot. For weeks since he passed, I have had the idea in my head that I (and the kids) would keep every single thing he owned. I would just move it with me to my house across town and carry on like nothing had changed. The kids would see their dad’s things around them, and I’d be there to answer questions about what kind of man their father was and what these items meant to him.

I failed to consider that his family feels the same way, the same ineffable urge to have his things around them, to build shrines to him in every room, pile mementos of him from floor to ceiling. While I have lost my love, his mother and father have lost their son. His children have lost their father. His sister has lost her brother, and so on. It’s surprising to me, in retrospect, how shocked I was that they might want his things for themselves. Especially considering most of my functioning through these early days of grief has been predicated on the delusion that if I kept all of this things together, we could live essentially the same life, and the only thing missing would be the man himself.  I see now how selfish and incomplete my thinking has been.

This has been a humbling experience that has greatly expanded my compassion for (and understanding of) people who hold onto or seek after things when a loved one dies. I get why people have a hard time letting go. I get why people lay claim to things with such insistence. It is as if being surrounded by these physical touchstones of the life that he lived will keep him alive for us in some respect. Life is marked by impermanence, and that is a difficult reality to live in. We are all craving some piece of him that will never go away, and these things give us the illusion of permanence, the illusion of constancy, some connection to a life (lived with that person) that no longer exists. —He is the thing I can’t get back. No amount of his stuff will change that for me.

I have surrendered the fate of his possessions to his family’s wishes. Whatever comes to me will be a blessing. Whatever goes to them will bless them. Either way, the memories I share with him continue to burn brightly in me for as long as I live.