I believe that death has taught me everything I need to know about life.
Before she passed away, my Mom battled cancer for nine years. During that time, I spent countless hours with her in doctors’ offices and hospital emergency rooms. The despair I witnessed in strangers those years left me both heartbroken and profoundly grateful for my own life.
Packing up my Mother’s belongings after she passed away changed my life. By no means was she a pack rat; in fact she was extremely tidy and well organized. Yet still she lived in the same home for 30 years, and in that amount of time, possessions have a tendency to accumulate.
One Saturday morning after her death, I met a team of her friends at her house to help me with the daunting task of clearing out her possessions. The house was abuzz with packers rifling through drawers and carrying furniture down the stairs. There were many sorrowful sighs in her house that day, including my own. The work had to be done, yet somehow it seemed disrespectful. With each dress, dish or document with her handwriting on it I packed, I felt as though I were one more item closer to permanently packing away my Mom’s entire life and shipping it out.
Cleaning out her home office, I was faced with the reality that when a person dies, whether suddenly or due to a long-term illness, he or she will inevitably leave projects undone. My Mom never paid a bill late in her life nor did she ever forget to write a thank you note or return a phone call. Yet I found unpaid bills, unanswered emails and desperate phone messages from out-of-town friends trying to reach her. With her no longer there to tend to her responsibilities she normally took so seriously, I saw the irony in her incomplete tasks. After 70 years, these once-important duties no longer mattered to her. There was satisfaction in knowing she was free from the burden of both her incurable illness and her day-to-day responsibilities.
I left my Mom’s house that day a very different person than when I entered. After decades of hearing , “You can’t take it with you,” I now had a first-hand understanding that no matter what I might possess materially, I will some day leave all of it behind – and it won’t matter. Now I long to ransack my own closets and cart out “stuff” to ease the burden, that someone else will have, of cleaning out my house one day. And no matter how many tasks I complete, I will some day leave many undone. Someone else will have the obligation of finishing them, while dealing with the fact that I am gone.
I am not about things or tasks, though they are unavoidably a part of my life. I am about living each day with gratitude and the priceless knowledge of what matters most. This is what I believe.
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