Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

August 26, 2009


Fr. Peter Daly talks about the melancholy task of being an executor and how stuff matters so little in the end.


            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 he died, I made arrangements for the funeral. I drove three hours to his house and closed it up. I cleaned out the fridge. He had been in hospital for the last 6 weeks, so some stuff was pretty ripe.

            After the funeral, I was back there for a couple of days.   

            I hired a lawyer and filed the 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 sale. I filed a change of address card and notified the neighbors and home owners’ association.

            Finally I arranged with an estate auction house to come the next day to take away all his furniture, art and nice things, like china and silverware.

            Just before the auction house truck came I started emptying out drawers. All the little things we collect poured out.

            I packed up the some personal items like family photos for his sister.  I took a photo of him for myself.

            Then I tackled the clothes closets. So much stuff! He was a pack rat.

            He had 300 shirts! Just as many pants, ties, and shorts. Dozens of jackets and belts. Some shirts still had tags on them. Some shoes were still in the boxes. There was underwear and socks for a lifetime. It all went to the local charity thrift shop. 

            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.        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!

            Despite things counted for nothing in the end.

            What he wanted was friendship.

            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, the all physical evidence of his existence was gone. The accumulated stuff of a life time 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 to other people.

            What really matters is love.