So this is how it ends, I thought. Birth, childhood, tempestuous adolescence, work, family, illness and death — and someone ends up in a courtroom raising her right hand and correcting the pronunciation of your first name. Throughout the courtroom, other family members — well-dressed and obviously uncomfortable — sat with their lawyers, then hovered in front of the judge to answer a few questions. This is how it all ends, with a total stranger in a black robe offering you sympathy and wishing you well.
I am now the executor of my father’s estate. Death isn’t merely a physical and spiritual matter — it’s financial, it’s legal, it’s business. Fortunately, I am with an old friend, Gayle, who’s my lawyer. She’s compassionate and reassuring and she’s had her own terrible losses, so she understands. She’s also tenacious and experienced, with a head for details. This makes me think — for the thousandth time — what a shitty lawyer I would have made. If you want someone who can dot i’s and cross t’s, you don’t want me. My head is good for something, I like to think, but it goes numb and fuzzy when presented with procedures and forms and the stiff and dense language of contracts. Get me out of there!
A few years ago, one of my dearest friends was frozen when it came to dealing with her mother’s estate. I came over one morning to help her — and we ripped through a pile of bills and documents. It was easy for me and made me feel good about myself that I could help her.
But now I’m in her position and I understand her immobility and helplessness. I look at the stacks of papers piled here and there in our house — and I’m overwhelmed and exhausted. You tell yourself this is merely a physical task, something that can be patiently and determinedly worked through. But its psychic cost is far beyond that. I am handling money my parents spent a lifetime to accumulate by scrimping and saving. I know the sacrifice that went into every penny they saved. I am handling their money and tying up — or putting an end to — their financial lives. How could a modest amount of money weigh so much? I’m overwhelmed by it.
Driving home, I turn on my homemade CD and do what I often do when my life is too much for me. I turn up the volume and blast the same song over and over. It happens to be “Last Date,” a heartbreaker by Floyd Cramer — full of yearning and melancholy. I play it again and again, refusing to move on, just wanting to hear that same swell of longing and anguish, then reluctant denouement.
Driving and sniffling, I wonder: Is this how it ends? You repeat it over and over. You never have to let go till you’re ready, till the melody no longer moves you, till you’ve finally had enough.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
My thoughts are with you.
I’m glad you are getting the kind of support you’ve been able to offer others before. Take care.
Beautiful. So heartbreaking and true. I’ve had the same thoughts so many times about the way my parents struggled for every dime. I’m still puzzled about the meaning of life and the hard work of trying to make sense of it all. Thanks for making me feel less alone in my confusion and overwhelming self-imposed burdens.
Ruth, you put in to words the crippling emotions of this most difficult time. I feel this coming closer and closer for me as my parents deteriorate daily. So sad and so consuming emotionally. Sending comforting thoughts your way. God bless.
Ruth, so much of what you said resonated with me. Thank you for a lovely post.
This sounds like a challenge – emotionally and mentally. I hope you are able to wrap things up quickly. When my grandmother passed, emptying out the house was a momentous task that took my mom months to get through. And then when it was done, it was hard to be done.
Ruth, you wouldn’t have made a shitty lawyer. Maybe estate law wouldn’t have been your thing, but you’d have been a hell of a mediator or arbitrator.
Nevertheless, we’re all glad you chose another path. We need your words and your wisdom.
If only loss could be one moment, that you could get over. Instead, there’s the loss that is your father’s incomprehension at the choices you made. And then the loss that was, simply, his incomprehension, his loss and yours. The loss that overwhelmed you when he died overwhelms you again every time you have to sign a form or correct his name or throw out his old scuffed shoes. “I’m sorry for your loss”, is what the Irish always say. It’s a good line, because it works over and over.
It’s loss that keeps the poets and the songwriters in business.
You have a way of putting your emotions right out there for everyone else to feel. I hope you’re able to move on and change the song when you’re ready.
So this is how it ends, I thought. Birth, childhood, tempestuous adolescence, work, family, illness and death — and someone ends up in a courtroom raising her right hand and correcting the pronunciation of your first name. Throughout the courtroom, other family members — well-dressed and obviously uncomfortable —
The opening of your post makes such a grand lead-in to a rest-of-the-story kind of tale away from the decorum of a courtroom, where family members fight over possessions of the deceased.
At a local eatery I frequent– and eavesdrop, I’ve overheard bits and pieces of these kinds of family squabbles– “Jeb and Gene hadn’t visited Grandpa in twenty years, and where did I find those two? On the back porch, squared off with pocketknives drawn, ready to shed blood over possession of that old mayonnaise jar Grandpa used to spit tobacco juice in. You’d think it was a pot of gold the way those damn fools were carrying on”
Oh, I’m so sad for you, Ruth! This truly makes me sad. We all forget, in the hustle and bustle of daily living, that there is this aspect to dying, as well. I’ve also read about our online estates – the electronic footprint we leave behind on the web, and who is to manage that. Do you have a friend who can help you do this, the way you helped your friend?
I still have my grandmother’s credit card. It’s the oddest thing to save, isn’t it? A credit card. No, it doesn’t work. It’s just one of those first mastercards with the little circles on it. For some reason I cannot toss it. And I am not normally a save it kind of gal. But we all go thru this.
It sounds overwhelming and exhausting, Ruth. My heart is with you.
“Death isn’t merely a physical and spiritual matter — it’s financial, it’s legal, it’s business.”
This is so true. Difficult. And true.
I am so sorry to read about your father, Ruth. What a wonderful, heartbreaking post you wrote.
I’m glad you have Gayle.
Ruth, you’re definitely in my thoughts. Although my parents are still living one of my most prized possessions that my dad ever gave me was a smurfette figurine from Europe. He’d seen it on a trip and remembered that as a child I liked the smurfs. I was grown when he gave it to me but I was impressed that he remembered such a small detail of my childhood enough to stop and buy it.
I have written and have been working on pieces of writing about some certain totems that belonged to my parents. I relate.
Being an executor adds another whole level to the emotional rollercoaster you must be going through. Glad to hear you have the professional and personal support you need during this grieving period. You’re in my thoughts, Ruth. Take care.
“Death isn’t merely a physical and spiritual matter — it’s financial, it’s legal, it’s business. ”
This line gave me the chills. Really, it’s such a tough experience to begin with, and then you add all of the administrative pressure of estates, finances, etc. Very disheartening.