Saturday, April 4, 2009

Thoughts of Mortality


I’ve been through one of life’s interesting experiences. For the past two days, I’ve been helping Valerie sort through boxes and boxes of stuff in her office in preparation for her move in 10 days’ time. Valerie is George’s widow, the man whose passing I sadly marked last month.

George was a graphic artist, a screenwriter, producer, all ‘round media guru …. And a packrat of mondo proportions. He had first, second and third drafts of projects in archive boxes, to say nothing of endless notes, proof pages and other paraphernalia. I really liked George and Valerie loved him to pieces, but he did leave her with a lot of stuff to deal with.

It’s not enough that she has to downsize the household side of things, moving from a large house to a small apartment. The business side of things takes up the entire basement. None of the computers can be moved/stored/disposed of until her technogeek comes help (I don’t understand her network system). But I could and did help sort through the endless banker boxes of paper, sort through supplies and clean out desk drawers and shelves.

Poor girl thought all the paper had to be shredded for recycling! Oh no, I assured her, only the stuff with personal info that could be misused. Just pull out the paper clips and clamps, anything plastic like covers or binders, magazines, books and newspaper in separate boxes. And then we packed them up the stairs, into Bryan’s pickup and down the mountain to the recycling centre in town. Back up the mountain and repeat. Again. Who needs a ‘StairMaster’ when you’ve got the real deal, eh?

Physical effort aside, there was an entirely different aspect to the process that gave pause for thought. George kept all that stuff because it was important to him. He thought it had value. To him, it did. To us, no. Or more specifically, to me it had no value. I had no emotional interest vested in the contents and so it was easy – more or less – to be a dispassionate arbitrator.

George had a delightful habit of dressing up his fax pages with cartoons, and dozens of the originals were in the boxes. Val and I pulled them out and put them in the ‘keep’ box along with other treasures. Val also has a large collection of George’s logo and trademark work. George designed many corporate logos for local businesses, logos recognized far beyond the valley. There’s a seed of a thought of an idea in my mind based on these dozens of sketches and artwork.

There is a box of stuff for George’s three adult children, who all live in Ontario. Included is a box that Valerie despaired of ever finding – photos of George’s family and childhood in India (his parents were Baptist missionaries). Then there was the total surprise of memorabilia that Val didn’t even know existed – George’s various school reports, art school certificates and other ‘landmark’ documentation. All will go to the children as is proper.

I have another load of art supplies and tools to take to the office Monday - I’m sure there will be people there interested in some or all of it as many of them have art interests and businesses outside of work.

I’ve given Val two very long, full days. I’m afraid I wore her out yesterday but we did get a lot accomplished. A friend from her quilt guild was there today and helped in the office during the morning, packing up her fabric stash in the afternoon. Sometimes it’s hard to see how much has been done because a person keeps seeing everything there is left to do. Progress is noticeable downstairs, though.

I can’t help her tomorrow because I have company coming. Bryan’s youngest brother Walter and wife Susan are up from Minnesota; he had a conference in Calgary and then they drove to Mom’s in Revelstoke for a visit. The gang is coming here for lunch. I need to do some housework before they arrive – haven’t done much in the past two weeks but there’s nothing like company coming to inspire action. Vacuum the floors if nothing else!

Tonight, however, I’m just laying back - watching a few cartoon flicks, big glass of milk on the table beside me, writing and thinking. Thinking about what truly is important in our lives, while we are living and after we are gone. I’ve pondered the topic before. Tonight I’m looking around me - at the books on their shelves, the work in progress on my desk (and floor and shelves, but never mind), thinking about the tote boxes downstairs full of fabric and yarn and fleeces, knitting needles, crochet hooks, weaving shuttles; the collection of ruby glass on the mantle and Grandma McKinnon’s china in the tall antique cabinet filled with other heirloom treasures. Who would I want to rifle through these things? What judgments would they make based on what they found? What would they think valuable and what would they toss without a pause?

By what do we measure our lives? What is important to us and why?

Moving from the farm to the acreage involved a lot of purging, downsizing, priorizing (is that a word? Spell check says not but how else to say ‘deciding what was more important than something else’?). Packing to move here involved even more distribution of goods – to friends, charity stores and, alas, the landfill or burning barrel. You’d think we had it pared down pretty good but should something happen to me or Bryan or both of us, would those left to clear it away be pleased or annoyed with us? Humbling thought.

If nothing else, that’s enough of a reason to roust myself and get the dishes washed. God forbid they find me dead in bed and the sink filled with dirty supper dishes!

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