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Archive for August, 2012

In my continuing observations on death, I’ve been thinking about stuff; namely, about what our stuff says about our lives to those who are left behind.  When a loved one has the task of going through the detritus of my life, what will s/he learn about me?  Will it shock/dismay/offend? Or will it bring a smile/inspire/ignite a memory?

I began pondering this after the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado.  In particular, I wondered about how the parents of the out-of-state college students would cope with finding photos of their children posed with people they don’t know.  I’ve noticed that the college-aged people I know are fond of taking photos of themselves and their friends with the phones, which doesn’t allow for much description.  When that grieving mother opens her child’s laptop and sees her daughter’s smiling face, surrounding by the faces of others, would it help her grief to know how those people mattered to her child?  It seems to me that knowing who those people are and how they fit in her child’s life might bring her closer to the child she can no longer hold.  Knowing her child’s friends might give her insights into her child’s life away from home, insights into the person she was becoming. (note to self: label all my photos!)

When someone dies after a long life, the family assumes there will be few surprises to be found amongst the flotsam and jetsam of that life.  I suppose most of the time that is true, but what about when it isn’t?  How does finding out that grandpa loved something (or someone) that he kept secret affect your memory of him?  What if we discover that grandma had a huge secret that she could never tell anyone?  How would that change the story we carry with us about that person?  We know that diaries and personal letters are private things, but it is common to read the diaries and letters of the deceased.  It helps us to learn more about that person and find connections and memories in the words on the page.  I find the idea of having to keep a part of my life secret, for whatever reason, unbearably sad.  I would be just as sad to find out that a deceased loved one felt that secrecy was necessary in his or her life as well.  I think that just might break my heart.

Then of course there is the stuff that no longer has any meaning but that we simply haven’t let go of yet.  The remnants of childhood, the books we haven’t looked at in years, the debris of a failed relationship.  What story does that tell our survivors about us?  That we can’t let go of what is no longer useful?  Or maybe that we simply haven’t thought about it in so long we’ve forgotten it exists?

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What might someone learn about me if they had to go through all of my stuff?  Assuming my spouse and I died at the same time, a surviving parent or sibling would need to deal with all of the stuff we’ve accumulated over the years.  I like to think that there would be no surprises, that our friends and families know us well enough to know what to expect in that situation.  We certainly don’t all think the same way or believe the same things, but we know that about each other, and it is still possible to love each other and get along with each other while avoiding contentious conversation topics.  I don’t want to cause anyone more grief at my passing based on a discovery that I was too afraid of losing their love to be myself.

What about you?  What story does your stuff tell?  Does it tell your story, or someone else’s?

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