When a loved one passes, it is uncanny how often we learn something new about them. And that knowledge frequently leads to questions — questions which, unfortunately, never end up satisfactorily answered.
We hear these stories all the time at Martin Oaks Cemetery and Crematory in Lewisville, Texas.
A recent example occurred when an acquaintance lost an uncle, a man who was fairly reclusive, who spent most of his time tending to his business. Imagine the surprise when the uncle’s estate was processed — everything had been left to our acquaintance. The total estate came to an amount well into seven figures!
More often than not, the surprises involve smaller amounts, more emotional than financial matters.
In my own instance, my mother left behind items that meant more to her than I realized, as well as items that I didn’t have any awareness of. Were she still around, I certainly would like to have the opportunity to discuss her feelings about these possessions.
My wife recently lost her mother and we had a similar experience.
Tucked away in a closet, my mother-in-law had kept a dress that she wore when she about a year old. A photo of her in the dress was located — amazingly, the garment is in a state of remarkable preservation.
Why would she keep it? Why did it matter so much to her? My mother-in-law was quite well organized and had no hoarding qualities whatsoever — she discarded with a healthy dispassion.
So what was the sentimental significance?
Unfortunately, we will never know. Fortunately, the dress framed up beautifully; it does have sentimental value to us and will, someday, belong to a granddaughter.
Connections between lost loved ones and those they encountered in life also sometimes emerge in unexpected ways.
One of my favorite relatives, Aunt Beulah, died 40 years ago — June 8, 1978. A highly motivated professional, she spent most of her life in Chicago, Illinois working for a company allied to healthcare.
But what really motivated her, what mattered to her was art — she was a gifted painter and sculptor who studied/worked at the renowned Art Institute of Chicago. While her skill level never reached the plateau of some of the alumni (Georgia O’Keeffe (pictured above) studied drawing and composition there), Beulah had a distinctive hand, a vision which expressed itself in all her work.
Years after she passed away, we met one of her fellow students who knew her well, and another painter who was at the Institute at the same time she was. Both of these other artists forged distinctive, although not superstar, careers.
Crossing paths with someone who knew a deceased loved one can be memorable — you can pick up an entirely new viewpoint, a different perspective.
In closing, there is one other choice some of us face when a loved one dies — the question of what to do with their existing work. And, pointedly, what to do with that work if they have achieved any fame.
Dmitri Nabokov, son of the seminal author Vladimir Nabokov (he expired and was cremated in 1977, pictured above), faced such a challenge.
After agonizing over the decision for years, Dmitri had the novel, “The Original of Laura,” published in 2009. He did so with two interesting caveats. It was clearly stated that the work was unfinished and it was printed on facsimile notecards his father used for composition — in the book, the notecards could be detached and arranged in whatever order the reader wished!
A very clever way of honoring the work of his father as well as a final, clear statement about the unfinished business of the novel.
Dealing with the details of the aftermath of a death is no small task.