Life comes down to papers and photos, and sometimes not even that. The important things in life are not what you have collected over the years but the relationships you develop.
Over the last 10 months I have been handling the affairs of an estate of a relative I loved very much. It has been the most difficult task to date that I have ever had to perform. In a matter of two trips, each a week long, we inventoried, tossed, and packed all her personal belongings. We ended up shipping four boxes home that were filled with papers and photos and little trinkets that we thought might be wanted by someone in the family. Everything else was sold to an auction house.
Today the third to last box arrived. As I unpacked each box, and I laid each item on a blanket to start organizing all of the items, it dawned on me that what is there is so inconsequential.
The items aren’t big, some of it is tax paperwork, and I don’t recognize many of the people in the photos. That is when I occurred to me that it isn’t THINGS that are important in life but rather the relationships we build along the way.
Things are Temporary
The process of probate has been harrowing, especially since we lived 3000 miles away from the family member. The first trip out we had to literally identify everything in the home, count everything, and create an inventory for the courts. During this process we also had to do a sort through of what to keep, what to toss, what to shred, etc. We also had to dig through drawers, boxes, bags, and books to make sure nothing important got lost in the process.
We didn’t have time to really determine if something she owned was of more value than only sentimental. Other than going by what was in the will, we had to go based on what an auction house told us regarding values. She had a large CD collection. They weren’t high in value but she loved them and enjoyed listening to them. Now those CDs are with someone who will try to sell them for a few dollars each. Our family member thought they were valuable and even had them designated to go to a music school. As it turns out, that music school no longer takes CDs because the students use iTunes, or some version of it.
After all the sorting, many of her items ended up being sent to a junk store or tossed in the dumpster. Only a few of the larger pieces were taken by the gallery to be auctioned.
Now what is left of her entire life is sitting on the floor in my living room waiting to be sorted into another set of toss or keep piles. The items that made her life enjoyable were temporary. She couldn’t take them with her when she passed away.
Although that pile of paperwork sits on my floor and makes me sad, I have memories. I have happy memories, funny memories, thankful memories, and yes, some sad memories of her. I have a full 12+ years of memories to carry with me that will help me remember her.
Those memories would not have been created if she hadn’t been a relationship person. She desired more than a call once a year or a card at Christmas. She wanted to really know you. That resounded with me. Even though she and I didn’t necessarily agree on things all the time — and I do mean did not agree at all, whatsoever – and we had differing preferences in so many things, we found common ground that is now the foundation for my memories of her.
Relationships are important. It can be a struggle for some to develop relationships, and maybe they buy things because relationships are hard to develop, but in the end the memories are what the loved ones who are still here carry around with them. I’d rather spend money on a flight to go see a close friend than have the next, newest, awesome-est car on the block. I’d rather spend a little more on an adventure with a friend or a long distance phone call than have that new diamond necklace. Looking around my own home I can say with fact that 97% of what is here really has no value other than making our home a little more comfortable or pleasing to the eye. Our DVD collection will probably end up in a thrift store somewhere, the chairs may be given away, and our clothing – yes, even our name brand shoes, purses, musical instruments, etc. — will probably have the same fate as the DVD collection.
However, on the walls are photos that remind me of the relationships I have built over the years. The photos have no value, but they remind me of memories I have created because I took the time to develop a relationship with someone that eventually led to having that photo taken.
A relationship builds memories; things don’t. I am not saying that things don’t give pleasure because they do. Things can even help build those memories. What I am saying is that a memory doesn’t get tossed out or given away when you die, but things do. Maybe you own a fancy car that you are handing down to a niece or nephew when you pass away. Maybe that niece or nephew will be happy to get it, but eventually that car will wear out and they will get a new car. The car will be gone but the memories you built that involved that car with that niece or nephew will remain.
Relationships build the memories that are left when you die. When there is nothing left after the movers and auction people have taken everything out, and the boxes of papers have been shipped, all that is left are the memories. It is the memories that are important in the end.
Memories are the lasting gift of a relationship.
– In loving memory of MP.