I hate moving. I especially hate it when I am moving somebody
else's stuff. But that is what I was doing. Schlepping boxes
around in the late-August heat and packing stuff up for the
A friend and former parishioner had died. He appointed me his
It was logical. He had no children. He had never married. He
was not particularly close to his siblings. In the last few
years of his life I had become his counselor and friend.
Since I was both a lawyer and his priest, he figured I would
know what to do.
Being an executor is a melancholy duty. When I got the call
that my friend had died, I made arrangements for his funeral.
I drove three hours to his house and closed it up. I cleaned
out the fridge. He had been in hospital for six weeks, so
some stuff was pretty ripe.
After the funeral, I was back at the house for a couple of
days. I hired a lawyer and filed the necessary papers with
the court. I met with a real estate agent and started the
ball rolling on selling the house.
I closed up his bank accounts and shut off his cell phone. I
secured the car and arranged for its sale. I filed a change
of address card and notified the neighbors and the
Finally I arranged with an estate auction house to come the
next day to take away all his furniture, art and nice things
such as china and silverware.
Just before the auction house truck came, I started emptying
out drawers. All the little things people collect poured out.
I packed up family photos and other personal items for his
sister. I selected a photo of him for myself. Then I tackled
the clothes closets. So much stuff!
He was definitely a packrat, with 300 shirts, just as many
pairs of pants, ties and shorts, dozens of jackets and belts!
Some shirts still had tags on them. Some shoes were still in
the boxes. There were underwear and socks for a lifetime. It
all went to the local charity thrift store.
As I sat on a folding chair sorting all this stuff, I was
overcome with sadness for my friend. He must have been
lonely. Maybe that was why he went out shopping every day. He
just wanted some human contact.
He must have been bored too. He had no one to talk to. He had
no books, except an old prayer book from childhood. There was
no Bible. I saw no reading.
He did have a lot of music: show tunes, big band and disco.
He was a great dancer in his younger years.
But how sad! His things counted for nothing in the end.
I believe what he wanted was friendship, and he had outlived
his closest friends.
I never realized how important it was to him that we
occasionally went out to dinner or talked on the phone.
In just two days time, all the physical evidence of his
existence was gone. The accumulated stuff of a lifetime
As I turned the key in the empty house, I thought of the poet
John Keats' epitaph: "Here lies one whose name is writ in
We leave little evidence of ourselves. I know my friend lives
on in God's sight. But still it was so sad. In the end, the
stuff we collect matters nothing. Strangers will take it
away. What really matters is friendship.
What really matters is the bond with other people. What
really matters is love.
Fr. Daly is pastor of St. John Vianney Church in Prince