Write something down.

I was caring for my orchids. Glancing out the window. The son of my deceased neighbor was carting the remains of his belongings to the dumpster. The son who had not been here to visit his father for twenty years. At least. The son no one knew hardly anything about since he left and went to live on his own. First with his mother and then…? Then I used to see him at the dog beach with his dog. He never said hello. I thought he didn’t know who I was. It didn’t really matter, I just thought, oh, there’s my neighbor’s son. All grown up and very tall. Then last summer when I was picking up the little girl from summer school I saw him. He was a teacher at the Lab School. I knew that. His father had told me. He also said that he learned, after the fact, that his son was married and there was a grandchild. A boy. He had never met either. The wife or the child. I thought that was odd. Sad and odd. There was a prolonged estrangement and then he had died and here he was, the son. At the memorial arranged and organized by my neighbor’s girlfriend. She had been here every day. I sat with my neighbor of thirty five years a few times. He was just as ridiculous and cantankerous as he had been when he was well. Then he died. Right here at home just like my mother. Then his girlfriend came and cleaned and cleaned and arranged and got it all together for a memorial. All the neighbors came and some of the former coworkers. We all took books and records and things we thought we might like. The son was there. I didn’t know what to say. I could hardly say, where have you been? Ask what happened. Who can say what happens in a family? Who can judge? I had been estranged from my own mother for a time. But when she was ill I came. I came and I stayed and I am still here. It seems like water under the bridge now. But of course there is such a longing for her, my mother.

So here was the son carting what was left of the life of the man he was born to. He had a wagon and he wheeled it back and forth from the apartment to the dumpster. I saw later. Later when I took my own garbage out on my way to pick up the little girl from school. There were photo albums and movie cd’s, boxes of those cards you save for a special occasion. Someone’s birthday or the death of a friend’s parent. The dumpster was just full to the brim with things from a lifetime. All the paper clips and odd pens and pencils, scraps of paper, odd little tchotchkes that we keep around because someone brought them from a far away trip. I have these things. We all do. We water a neighbor’s plants or feed the cat and they bring us an odd little thing that does nothing. I once had my neighbor take in my mail. I had gone to Thailand. I brought him back a cool little whistle thing from Bangkok. I had bought it in the night market. It was made by one of the Hill Tribe people. He said, what IS this? Like I was supposed to have brought him something he could understand or use. He was so ridiculous. Everyone else knows to just say thank you. Just ask how the trip was and say thank you. Geez. Here I was explaining the thing and blowing into it to show how it worked.

The dumpster full of my neighbor’s stuff made me sad and worried. I started to think again about how I don’t have any instructions written down anywhere. The stuff in the dumpster caused a whole day of existential anxiety.

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9 thoughts on “Write something down.

  1. Ann Marie Villasana July 21, 2019 — 11:38 am

    You are not alone, Jami. If we stop to contemplate the little naggings in our head, heart and soul, we know we must do something. This week I will make an appointment with a lawyer. My husband and I will go and make a will and a living will. Thank you for the impetus! Love you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jami,

      Ugh, what a gut-wrenching experience. Many of us have been that man doing the sorting through of a deceased person’s belongings and it is so hard. I wonder if he reflected on things and had any regrets about his estrangement. It must have been bad to not even share your child with your parent.

      Ann Marie,

      I’m a friend of Jami’s so pardon my butting in to comment. If your circumstances are straightforward, Legal Zoom can guide you through state-specific documents at a fraction of the cost of an attorney. Either should advise you to prepare a Durable Power of Attorney in the event either you or your husband becomes incapacitated and someone needs to make/ execute ordinary decisions about paying your bills, etc. Also a Medical Power of Attorney to assist in decisions short of end-of-life choices. The Advanced Medical Directive itself (“living will”) should be shared with all of your physicians and your local hospital. Not sure of Illinois law, but some hospitals will not honor requests to remove life support, if that is your choice, e.g., certain religious-run facilities. It always a good idea to verbally share your specific plans with all of your closest family members to save the hand-wringing that sometimes comes at that time.


      1. Hi Herm, maybe you can help guide me through some of this process? I would value your input and certainly be grateful. It would be a load off of my mind.

        As far as the neighbor and his son? I think there was some level of reconciliation? Not sure. We didn’t have a conversation. I just offered my condolences at the memorial.

        I live in my mother’s apartment. I find comfort in the items of hers that are still here.

        Love you.


      2. Jami, I’ll send you a text


      3. Ann Marie Villasana July 21, 2019 — 3:56 pm

        Thanks Herm. It is a bit complicated as both my husband and I have dual citizenship and our will may involve members of our families in other countries and perhaps burial in another country. I have used LegalZoom to incorporate my business. It was much more reasonable than hiring a local lawyer.
        My mom had a living will, POA for Health Decisions, POA for financial. All her planning and organization before she developed Alzheimer’s helped us siblings immensely. She had a “Living Will ” Advanced Health Directive for over 25 years and I was her Health Care POA and I knew exactly what to do and I was able to advocate vociferously for her wishes at the end of her life. My sister was her financial POA, and mom had all her papers in order. She shed her belongings as she aged, and asked us to help her, to take what we wanted. She wasn’t attached to much. I have most of her possessions that mattered to her, mostly pictures of her family and some furniture. Now I have to do some planning, and Jami’s blogpost has been an impetus


      4. Ann Marie, sounds like you definitely need an attorney. I’d never trust LZ to handle something that complex. You’ll probably sleep better after it’s done. That’s how I felt when mine was completed and I knew my daughter would be cared for properly.


  2. It’s so hard! I think I should make sure my “good stuff” doesn’t end up in the dumpster. Really, what does it matter? A lifetime of picking up rocks and beach glass….maybe you will take it back to the lake for me? xxo


  3. I am hopeful that my adopted daughters will take an interest in my physical and intellectual remains.


  4. Last summer we didn’t even imagine our dear old friend Ken Would be in Thailand January 3 2020.
    I just love your story. Touched my heart. 🌹


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