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Reflections on Closure

karablog - closure reflections
by Gary Lichtenstein

Greetings Loved Ones,

I wanted to share my reflections on my overnight trip to CA this week. After nearly 18 months as executor, I can say that my parents’ estate is settled. It was an honor to serve my parents and family in this way, and it was also a substantial education. One final detail had to be completed, emptying out a storage unit that Mom and Dad rented when they moved to Lake Park Retirement Community.

The storage unit was a concession to Dad, who never wanted to leave their lovely home on the lagoon in Alameda. He loved the water, the birds, the solitude, and of course the familiarity of the home and neighborhood. Mom, who cooked all the meals, did all the cleaning, cared for the yards and gardens, and worried about Dad’s health had another view. It took seven years of coaxing and pleading to get Dad to finally agree to move. Later, he said it was the best decision they ever made.

The crux of the challenge was Dad’s desk, which functioned like an anchor in their lives. Actually, you couldn’t see the desk. Covered by many strata of paper, it looked like a snowbank. Dotting the crest of the snowbank were some photos, mementos, and a nameplate. For years, Dad promised and promised he would clean his desk. But he never did. Nearly every day he sat at the desk and moved papers around, but the pile never thinned. Mom could winnow down their belongings in the garage, kitchen, and every other room in the house. But Dad’s office was off-limits–until one momentous day, when the tide of aging pulled at her with particular force, she dug into the snowbank. She filled several banker’s boxes until you could actually see the wood of the desk. Dad was furious, of course, unleashing his rage about the importance of those papers and now he couldn’t find anything and she had no right, etc., etc.

The papers were meaningless–Dad was retired, after all, and Mom managed the finances. Although Dad raged about the papers, at heart he understood that Mom was pulling up anchor, and that the drift of their lives was taking them directly to Lake Park. Dad insisted that most of his desk and office belongings were essential, and in one sense he was right about that. His cassette tapes of old-time radio, war medals, marathon badges, film books, UOP memorabilia, and awards for sales, teaching, and service all essentialized Dad’s productive personal and professional life, reinforcing his sense of accomplishment and dignity. And although there would be no room for all of those reminders at Lake Park, not even Mom could think about throwing them away. Dad agreed to move as long as he could keep these precious items. Paying $100/mo for a small storage shed was a concession that enabled my parents to set sail for communal living.

Years later, after both parents passed, Dad’s essentials (and some of Mom’s) — as well as a few art pieces and hundreds of vinyl records — continued to anchor their presence in this world. I was pinned down by COVID for several months, before I felt the same current Mom must have felt when she finally dug into Dad’s desk. I booked a flight to the Bay Area, rented an SUV to load with a few items, and set out to empty the storage unit.

I landed on Sunday morning, picked up the car rental, then went directly to the storage unit, spending much of that day and early Monday morning sifting through boxes of old-time radio cassettes, war medals, UOP memorabilia, family photos, 8mm home movies of weddings and family vacations, Kiwanis awards, marathon medals, Murphy’s Ale & Quail mementos, as well as various artwork that had been ever-present wherever Mom and Dad had lived.

These items had no intrinsic value, but they were imbued with strong memories of Mom’s and Dad’s lives, and our lives together as a family. And yet, there was room in my brothers’ and my lives now only for the memories, so I steeled myself with a resolve I inherited from my mother and carried box after box to the dumpster.

When it was done, I drove to the cemetery. My job was done — a job I had held for nearly 62 years. A job that I resented for many years, but one to which I applied myself whole-heartedly over the past four years. I honor our parents for preparing us from an early age to move ahead in life on our own; their efforts and example prepared me to navigate the settling of their affairs. Standing before them at the crypt, I was able to thank them, and then to say goodbye. The light rain at the cemetery captured the weighty mood, but as I was changing from a dress shirt back to road-wear for the drive to Phoenix, I felt light as a cloud.

With love,
G.

Kara would like to thank Gary for sharing his meaningful perspectives in this blogpost.  

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