hg: What We Leave Behind

What happens to our stuff after we die?

The rather depressing answer is most of it becomes unwanted and neglected. Some things get passed on to new homes or the next generation, which is important, but this only delays its eventual decline to the dump. Everything is temporary, especially stuff.

I remember going with my dad to clear out his mother’s house when she died. We went through everything and ended up bringing two boxes of keepsakes home. The rest was dealt with by a house clearance company.

Last year, my dad died. We spent the following months going through his belongings. Among them were those two boxes. We opened them (the first time they had been opened) and didn’t recognise any of the contents. Photograph albums of people we didn’t know, golf memorabilia, some trinkets I think. We discarded everything except one framed photograph.

My grandma’s house whittled down to a single item. And the same story has begun with my dad’s stuff.

So what do we actually leave behind? Great memories, not-so-great memories, life lessons, the tiny yet significant ways we influence each other’s lives.

I will tell my children of all the amazing things my dad did, what he taught me, and of the time we spent together.

I might show them a golf trophy of his, kept on a shelf gathering dust for ten years. Or I could just describe what it was like to play golf with him. How he taught me to “enjoy the walk if I wasn’t playing well.” How he was infuriatingly consistent and talented, but always modest. How I’ll never forget those hours of quiet friendship. I don’t need a trophy to convey these feelings.

The main reason we treasure things left behind is because we attach memories or emotions to them. But we can experience these at any time without the thing. We can simply recall from the depths of our mind. Even if we forget, it’s always inside us somewhere.

In the grand scheme of things, we live for an exceedingly short time. Yet we amass all this stuff that is destined to be discarded.

To impose a such a footprint, that is out of proportion to our lifetime, is irresponsible. It burdens the people left to sort through it and will eventually leave an oversized blot on our environment.

We don’t need such extravagance to live a good life anyway. It’s freeing to live simply. And in death, it frees the ones we love to move forward swiftly and cherish memories.