In the months since my wife’s death, I’ve been slowly and meticulously disposing of her belongs and shedding household items that accumulated during the decades we were together.
I’m learning that my living alone requires much less stuff than what was needed when we and our two daughters comprised a nuclear family of four.
There are three sets of dishes, for example. Three sets of dishes for two people—who aren’t even kosher.
Even as I spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week at my melancholy task of de-cluttering 50 years of marriage, I was preparing for my trip Thursday to Pittsburgh. My oldest grandson, Erik Schmitt, received his doctorate in physical therapy from Duquesne University yesterday, and I wanted to be there to represent in a special way his late grandmother, who adored him.
The conjunction of these two antithetical events—the de-cluttering and the doctorate—hit me hard as I dropped my wife’s beat-up old gardening Crocs into a trash bag: What is the true value of what remains after we leave our earthly life?
A remainder is defined as the part, number or quantity that is left over.
In the publishing business, remainders are the books left unsold when demand has died.
When we depart, we leave behind not only personal possessions, but also unfinished work, unfulfilled ambitions and unrealized dreams. The remainders of our lives.
But the word remainder has another meaning: a part that is still to come. The “remainder of the year” is an example.
This is the meaning that applies to the people on whom we’ve had special effect during our lives. It is here that what lingers of us applies in the most significant way.
Jo Anne’s elegant clothes and jewelry, her collections of antique salt dishes, mid-century charm bracelets and Nancy Drew novels, her flower beds and her precious koi—all are now exposed as trivial in light of her effect on the grandson who spent so many hours as a tyke in her care, who was so much the apple of her eye.
I’m proud of Erik’s academic accomplishments, which our extended family is honoring this weekend here in Pittsburgh.
Even more, I’m gratified by what a sincere and caring young man he has become.
And I am so aware of how much of Jo Anne lingers in him.
(Pictured above: Jo Anne and Erik on the Duquesne campus during our visit, September 7, 2013)