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)