Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Long, Strange Trip

"Sometimes the lights all shinin on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it's been..."
The Grateful Dead, "Truckin"

I've never before had to pack up a house after someone's death.  It's odd and sad and sometimes funny and mostly surreal.  All the things we accumulate, all the mundane bits and pieces and the occasional extraordinary object, when taken separately don't seem to amount to much...but together, it's someone's life.  There are secrets in our family, and half-truths, and things told (or not) with the idea of protecting someone, and some of that's been laid bare in the process of packing up my brother's house. 

I should have seen that coming, but I didn't.  Neither did Rodger's sons, Jimi and Jon.  So we've spent almost as much time sitting together smoking and talking about Rodger's life as we have in packing it up.  An afternoon goes like this:  we split up into different rooms of the house and start going through things, then I stop to read an old letter and get teary-eyed, and Jimi yells from the kitchen, "What the hell are all these photos of three coffins?", and then we hear Jon tell the neighbor "We want our food back" when the guy admits he cleaned out my brother's fridge, and then the three of us meet in the living room so I can share the letter and explain the three coffins (those of my maternal grandparents and my cousin, from the car wreck), and we laugh at Jon for saying that to the neighbor, and then pretty soon we're out on the back porch again huddled together on a plastic bench against the rain and cold, smoking Marlboros.  A few days of this before Jimi starts chuckling and says, "This is ironic, ya know?  The three of us smoking outside dad's house when he died of lung cancer," and then I laugh and say that I quit smoking years ago but I'm only doing it now because I'm giving in to peer pressure, and Jon laughs and says, "It is what it is." 

That's become our frequent refrain:  It is what it is.  Because I don't have the answers to the questions the boys ask me, and none of us knows why Rodger did the things he did, and all of us have to live with this gaping maw of regret and try to get past it somehow.  In the end, what matters most is this:  Rodger loved us, he was proud of us, and he did his best to protect us.  It is what it is. 


  1. Have you ever considered writing a book? You should. I love your writing style.

    It is weird packing up belongings. Even for someone you know closely. I can't even imagine how strange it must be for you given the circumstances.

    I'll have that song in my head all day now.

  2. That's the way it should be done. Absolutely. The stopping and talking and sharing are part of the ride.

    Truckin', I'm-a goin' home,
    Whoa, whoa, baby, that's where I belong,
    Back home, sit down and rest my bones,
    Then get back truckin' on . . . "

    (Yeah, I did that from memory. Dating myself, right?)

  3. By the way, having done this is why one of my semi-immediate goals is to go through my stuff and get rid of a lot of it. Not the family stuff, but I certainly have too much stuff.

    Better I do this than land it on my younger brothers after I'm gone.

    I recycled, gave away, or threw out about half of everything when I moved a few years ago, then did another sweep a year or two ago, now it remains to get what's left organized (bookshelves when I finish the upstairs, and so on.)

  4. Christine, you're maybe the fourth or fifth person in the last two weeks to tell me that I should write a book...perhaps I should heed this advice.

    Kate H, after I wrote this I googled the song and learned that the Library of Congress recognized it as a national treasure. This makes me feel old.

    Karen Anne, I'm inspired to do that too. Our relatives will thank us. If I had a dollar for every time in the past couple of weeks that I've looked at a Walmart receipt from 5 years ago and said, "Seriously, Rodge?!" I would be a wealthy woman. Boxes of this stuff. But in the middle of it, treasures--so it all has to be gone through.

  5. Got that book done yet? ;)

    Just checkin in on ya.

  6. Laughing because I helped pack up my great aunt and uncles house a few years back and I remember some of the stuff we found and would just look at each other and go: REALLY?!