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July 24, 2009
Photo by Aaron Landry -

Photo by Aaron Landry -

Leaving emergency services was very difficult.  I had lived and breathed this stuff since I was 14 years old.  At the age of 35, I was feeling led to walk away from this very rewarding, and successful career, to finish the college degree that I had started 18 years earlier.  It was a tough decision, but the right one.  I did finish my degree (20 years after beginning), and I found a wonderful woman to marry and start a family with.

I remember the last day in my office at Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue.  For the past couple of weeks I had been sorting files, handing off projects, and throwing stuff away.  The last day had been filled with good-byes, a party, and some melancholy sentiments.  At the end of the day, I was putting the last of my stuff in boxes and carrying them out to my 4Runner.  Several of my co-workers were chatting with me, standing at the office door.  I looked down at my turnouts, and wistfully mentioned that it is hard to leave those behind.

For over 20 years, my turnouts have always been a part of my life. As an Explorer Scout, or a volunteer firefighter, they were always in my bedroom, or in the trunk of my car.  As a professional firefighter, they were always next to my bed at night.  Then, as an operations manager, they were back in my trunk.  I learned about life, and death, while wearing turnout gear.  It seems as if I’ve spent half my life in turnouts.  It was hard to imagine that I wouldn’t have my own set anymore.

Our Assistant Chief, Gary Nees, was one of those chatting in my office when I made that comment.  He picked up my helmet and handed it to me.  “Why don’t you keep this,” he said.  I was touched – and it remains a treasure in my arsenal of keepsakes.

Photo by Steve Mohundro -

Photo by Steve Mohundro -

I’ve had a few more office clearing experiences in the past 15 years, and several moves – too many cross-country moves. This week I’ve been clearing out my office for the position that just ended.  I’ve been dreading it.  I’ve never really used the office, but all of my books (about 15 boxes) and all of my office accouterments were there.  For most of my time in this position, the office didn’t have Internet connectivity.  Also, it was tucked back into the corner of a large empty building – I never felt like it was a safe place to meet with people – for them, or for me.  Starbucks became my office.

So, earlier this week, I went and loaded it all up and brought it home. As I write this, all of the boxes are still in my 4Runner – yes, the very same 4Runner from 15 years ago.  I have no place to put all these books!

I’m not going to put them in my recently cleaned-up garage! No way.  Our basement is more like a root cellar and the books would be ruined down there.  Plus, we have a lot of my Dad’s non-perishables down there.  Our spare bedroom is also filled with a lot of my Dad’s stuff.  So, my truck is parked on my front lawn, backed up to the front door.  Yesterday, I hauled my Dad’s stuff out of the house and put it in his recently vacated travel trailer (The one he’d been living in, until he found his own place down the road).

The Wife would like her spare bedroom back. We’d like to have the grandparents come out for Smiling Son’s second birthday.  But alas, such is naught.

As I hauled my Dad’s stuff to the trailer yesterday, I kept finding my Mom’s fingerprints on everything.”

As I hauled my Dad’s stuff to the trailer yesterday, I kept finding my Mom’s fingerprints on everything. She was the organized one.  She was the saver.  She was the nostalgic collector.  She had really good taste.  My Dad, not so much – unless we’re talking cars.

My Mom died three and a half years ago; and for the most part, I’m done grieving.  But finding a letter she wrote, a year before her death, sent fangs of remembrances through my soul.  I came across a photograph of my brother and myself, taken when I was four and he less than a year.  I found a lot of my my Mom’s stuff yesterday.

My Brother has been saying for some time that we are going to have to start making decisions for my Dad. That’s easy to say, but how do you start doing that for an independent, rebellious, and stubborn old cuss?  How does one’s family do that, without destroying his dignity, his will, and his sense of purpose?  I think I discovered yesterday that it is a gradual process, not a sudden one.

The things my Dad left at our house, are things that are important, but unnecessary for his current survival. He has his bed, his recliner, his TV, his precious counter-top dishwasher (don’t ask!), his dog, and his phone.  The things here, are valued, but not important.  Photographs, antique tea cups, mementos, letters, cards, …stuff!  Well, it looks like these things are now my responsibility.

I always thought I wouldn’t have to take care of this stuff until after my Dad dies. And yet, what’s the difference?  The difference is, sorting this stuff, disposing of mementos, cataloging things – this is a part of the dying process.  This is a part of the grieving.  I just don’t want to start now.

The last thing I needed to find yesterday was the mailer advertising “Pre-Paid Cremation for Veterans.”  I’m pretty sure my Dad didn’t enjoy receiving that either.

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One Comment
  1. Rubyjean permalink
    July 26, 2009 8:13 am

    The difference of going through one’s parents’ stuff
    while they are still alive and with you in spirit as
    well as body, is that you can share with them about the
    things you run across, asking questions, sharing memories
    and laughing and maybe crying together about these memories.
    Once they are gone, the questions go unanswered, and the memories are bittersweet.
    Bless you as you are there for your Dad, and I sure that your Dad is glad to have both of his sons relatively nearby at this time in his life. And that you, too are glad that at this time in your lives none of you are

    Your friend,


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