Friday, 4 September 2009

Thoughts on death and stuff

Dean, T and I were talking about death the other night – are we afraid of it? where do we go when we shuffle off? what will our atoms be reconstituted as? – and Dean came up with something interesting: ‘We spend our entire lives accumulating stuff that can be packed up in one day.’

True. Anyone who’s moved house knows that (a) you always have more stuff than you think you do; and (b) nevertheless, you can usually shift the whole lot in one day, although obviously usually with help.

It puts an interesting perspective on the value we place on objects. Everyone knows you can’t take it with you when you go, and when you die, whatever ‘it’ might be – car, flat-screen TV, sound system, bed, wardrobe of clothing, artworks, books, whatever – loses any value you placed on it while you were alive and becomes something that must be disposed of in some way. It surprised me, when my Mom died some years ago, how quickly my sisters and I were able to whip through her fairly extensive wardrobes and divvy stuff up into piles – some for us, some for her friends and some for various charities. It seemed, I don’t know, weird that after she’d spent 64 years on the planet, we could dispose of most of her belongings in a couple of hours.

(And we loved finding, even after she’d been deathly ill for 18 months, one or two of her ‘hidden purchases’. Although my father, a very generous man, never put any kind of limit on what my mother could spend money on, she – a child of the Scottish ghetto who grew up during The War – never could shake feelings of guilt when she bought something entirely for herself. She only ever bought on sales, and even then, she’d secretly show her newest pants or skirt or pair of shoes to us, her daughters, then hide them away in the back of her wardrobe, to be taken out and worn with elaborate casualness at some later date. In the extremely unlikely event my father noticed she had on something he hadn’t seen before and said, ‘That’s a nice dress, Jess. Is it new?’ she could say with a clear conscience, ‘This old thing? Oh, I’ve had it for months.’)

Another great leveller when it comes to things we ‘value’ is having children and/or pets. I remember watching with open-mouthed dismay (and from too far away to stop him) as my then 2-year-old son dropped, with quiet concentration and really rather admirable precision, a precious chain-and-pendant of mine down a drain. I felt like dropping him down after it and to be honest I still miss that pendant. But who will care when I’m dead? It was only a thing, and it meant something only to me.

And when an excitable pet sweeps an costly knick-knack off a table with its tail or jumps up and tears a pricey top, well, there’s a lesson in that too: don’t spend your hard-earned bucks on expensive stuff. (Buy wine rather, or go away to a new exciting place, or make a fat donation to a children’s or animals’ welfare.)

Of course, this high-minded kind of thinking works only when your friends buy into it too. I told T today that, following a week of misery from miggie-bite poisoning (biting midges are a spring terror in this part of the country, and I have a nasty allergic reaction to them), I thought I might die. ‘Well, if you do,’ she said, ‘remember that you promised to leave the tapestry in your lounge to me.’

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ali g said...

There's no cure for 'life' or 'death'.
All you can do is try and have a bit of a laugh during that very short period in between...

Yor Nesot said...

I'm surprised that this 'post' only raised one comment. Between what you said and ali g's comment, I think many minds touched.