Hidden behind the walls – thoughts on my father’s life and legacy.
The death of a parent. It is an event that almost all of us will have to experience at some point. It will bring to the surface a million emotions, some that you expect – and some that confuse and surprise you. I think I felt that full spectrum when I lost my father this past year. It was unexpected and sudden, very little suffering, very little time to prepare to say goodbye.
Within days, I was doing what so many of us would do in the same situation. In my case, it was going home to the ranch where I grew up, helping my mother not only walk through the grief but helping with an untold number of physical chores to get the house ready to sell. I knew it was not going to be easy – sorting through 40 years’ worth of accumulated ‘things’ by a depression-era son who rarely threw things away was not going to be a good time.
What really struck me, and what I have been contemplating in the weeks and months since, is how meaningless all of the ‘stuff’ was at the end of a life. I cannot even describe how much ‘stuff’ there was. Truckload after truckload, box after box, almost none of it kept or deemed worthy to be passed on. I remember the feeling when our entire family thought we were done, only to find a hidden room behind a wall with another day’s worth of boxes to sort through (or really, just to throw away). While this might seem like a cautionary tale about hoarding and keeping too many material possessions, to me that was not the point at all of a lesson I could feel God starting to form in my heart. I noted the care, energy, and precision that went into all the packing…every box carefully labeled, taped, wrapped in plastic to preserve it for who knows what. Most of them went straight into the dumpster as there simply wasn’t time to go through each one. I couldn’t help but think – what if all that energy had instead been directed to strengthen and deepen our relationship? I always longed for a real connection with my dad, especially as I became a man. I began to realize that much of my dad’s legacy were these perfectly preserved documents, not a relationship with me. I was carrying these things to the dumpster, instead of carrying home memories of how my dad built into me. Now as I am raising boys of my own, I am thinking much more critically about where I am expending my energy, and how actively I am working on building strong emotional bonds with them. Someday when my sons think back on their father’s life and legacy, what will they say? I am grateful for the chance to start thinking about that now.
B – NCS Portland