I have a folder in my file cabinet labeled, “I’m Dead!”
I thought the exclamation point was a nice touch.
My wife and I were headed somewhere a little dicey – don’t think war zone, just picture me driving through mountains relying on a GPS speaking in a foreign language. I thought I better leave a few instructions in case my kids called each other to ask, “Weren’t Mom and Dad supposed to be back like a couple of weeks ago?”
There wasn’t much in there at first, just a list of bank passwords, where to find the life insurance policy, and my vision for what should happen to the farm.
My vision was simple. I think I wrote, “About the farm, I’m dead, so do whatever you think best. I trust your judgement. If you want to sell everything and use the money to move to Venus, go ahead.”
I should have left an apology for the huge mess I’m leaving behind. Between a couple thousand pounds of books, tools, and a bazillion half-finished projects, my demise is going to involve some sorting.
In 1976, we moved into a completely empty four-bedroom house and started filling it with stuff. About fifteen years ago, we put a new basement under the house, in the process adding another bedroom. It didn’t take much time before we’d filled that up with stuff. There are four shops and former hog houses - stuffed with stuff - and this summer I plan to build a tiny stone house to write in, which I’m afraid will soon be lined with stuff as well.
On the upside, this is all part of a plan, by me, to help my family deal with the grieving process. I can see it now...the kids will be tidying up after the funeral, occasionally shedding a single tear, and then out of the blue they’ll take a hard look around and the grief will be replaced with fury at all the work there is to do.
Now that I have a file started, every now and then I think about what else to toss in it. I don’t suppose it’s unreasonable to throw in some funeral suggestions. A friend of mine died recently and while at his funeral, I wasn’t fully pondering the eulogy or the music, although both were excellent. He was an auto mechanic and when our youngest daughter graduated from college, she and two friends planned a cross country trip in her car. I asked him if he could take a look at the car and he made room in his schedule, not easy because he was a busy guy, and went over it from front to back, replacing anything that seemed dubious and then reported to me that everything was going to be fine. That was almost twenty years ago, but I’ve always remembered the care he took. I teared up at the funeral thinking about it and I’m tearing up again just writing about it. So, if I ever did something thoughtful for you, feel free to swing by the farm and tell my family about it. While you’re here, look around. Walt Whitman said in Leaves of Grass, “This is no book. Who touches this, touches a man.” For better or worse, looking around the place I’ve spent my life might give you a better idea about who I was.
I suppose I’m thinking about this because we had another death recently, a relative who was a teacher, the kind of teacher who’s remembered fondly, who often got the toughest kids assigned to her class. It’s not the sort of thing that shows up in eulogies – he was a car mechanic who cared about other people’s daughters as if they were his own; she was a teacher who could reach the kids no one else could reach.
But that’s what should be in eulogies. It’s funny what you start thinking about, just by opening a file cabinet.
Copyright 2022 Brent Olson
Beautiful, funny, relatable and useful- thanks for writing.
Loved your column as usual. Brought back memories of our interactions over the years. I'll always remember you as the pig farmer philosopher and a fellow person of faith.
But that said it's not such a good idea to tell us where you keep your bank passwords.