The final move

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 "final move."

A friend and former parishioner had died. He appointed me his executor.

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 homeowners' association.

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 vanished!

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 water."

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 Frederick, Md

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009