Can I know my father's death

What I learned when my father died

There are situations in life for which you should prepare your own subject in school. The first tax return. Do not wash colored laundry with light-colored laundry. Accompanying your own father as he dies for years. The organization of his funeral. Things that almost everyone is likely to be confronted with in the course of a person's lifetime. In which one feels like the first person in absurd simultaneity.

So when a parent dies, the obvious thing happens first: the pain, the bottomless grief, the proverbial lost ground beneath your feet, one of the most drastic feelings of all, which mercilessly invades every crevice of being. That never again. That will be that way from now on. A state of extreme emotional vulnerability with simultaneous complete overload, which then (nobody would reveal that beforehand) can also bring with it surprisingly unpleasant side feelings: anger, anger, the feeling of having been left alone with a seemingly unmanageable task without guidance, with the end of that relationship with which everything in life - including the world of emotions - began, in the positive as in the negative.

The bureaucracy of dying brings you back down to earth, the sometimes tiny, sometimes meaningful decisions that have to be made after a death - even if you often confuse one with the other before you ultimately realize that a lot is not at all like that important. Coffin or urn? What music at the funeral? Is it the one he secretly heard when no one was around? Or is it for the others? And what the hell, you sometimes have to file a tax return for the dying and dead? But also: which father should I remember? The chain smoker, whom I emptied the ashtray when I was six, or the radical non-smoker from 40?

One wants to correspond to the deceased, at the funeral as well as when dealing with the estate. Your attitude, your life, professionally, privately. In retrospect, you know how you always know everything better afterwards, that you have to - and may - correspond to yourself. You can't and don't have to cherish every detail, you can let things and stories come to their natural end with death. You don't have to be a full-time guardian of the past.

The only way is through the middle

It's a strange time when you don't get much together other than to put one foot in front of the other next to the ruthlessly turning world of everyday life. The order of the necessities is given. First the coffin has to be selected, then a photo has to be found, then the poem for the funeral, only months later other official channels follow. If you are lucky, someone will help you with way too much wine with the list of party slip recipients and tell stories of barred better and less good sex.

The motto, which you soon realize, is: The only way out is through the middle. There are no shortcuts. It's actually only over when it's over - and then surprisingly suddenly. Through all the terrible corridors and errands, you have also reached an end yourself, after which a quieter grief finally has its place. Like an unexpected gift, the memory of the dead comes back when they were still alive, cracking jokes, bad and good, having opinions you liked and some you didn't, and all of a sudden replaces the burdensome fiery memories of when you were them held the hand during the last breath, that shadow of herself as one howled to choose clothes for the corpse.

I have seen many people fail in this endeavor. Inheritance disputes that have shattered families for decades. Rented furniture stores that only postponed the problem. People who, with half-siblings they barely knew, had to clear out the apartments of fathers they had last seen years ago in another country in three days. I watched myself trying to function, even though I was just stumbling directionlessly between times.

Of all biographies, depending on income and collecting mania, one thing remains first at the moment of death: objects. Working material, laundry, photos. In fact, it is not their monetary value that makes the decisions difficult, but the emotional one. As soon as people can afford it, they tell themselves with the help of things. From the band T-shirt to the choice of the car, we show who we want to be, how we want to be perceived and read. But what if the person who expressed himself with it is only there in memory? Who wore the red polo shirt? Or the checked jacket? What if no one knows the great-great-aunt who created the empty, still fragrant perfume bottle? When the only one who knows everything can only remember good days and the right questions? And what are the right questions?

Who was the man? Who really

So what to do with things without the person telling the story? Strange simultaneities arise again in this ludicrous time of permeability of life, fate and generations, it is as if one were present at the same time between child and adult in several personal ages, but it is also the dead who retrospectively get to know differently - new ones Suddenly they are people through their legacy, which allows its own conclusions, without the filter of an orderly narration of a specific person who dominates what the story is and was.

Suddenly this mysterious person, who remained unknown as a child and who was the father when one was not yet born, suddenly flashes through. When, at the age of 16, he smiles boyishly and slightly adventurously from a photo in which his mother is definitely not at his side. He kept it all these years, and when it was last cleaned up, even put it way up, and completely contrary to expectation, his own mother smiled when she saw it, because she knew this 16-year-old and was very impressed by him. These are confusing times for a child, even if they are over forty years old.

And like so many realizations during this time, this one too is frightening at first and then reassuring: We have no right to anything in our parents' lives. You don't have to tell us everything. We never told them everything either. Life is allowed to remain incomplete for others.

Right at the beginning, one would like to capture every evidence of the existence of a loved one. But luckily you have to capitulate. And right in the middle of this solid I can no longer get magical superpowers that stay with you. These unimagined skills that are only released in times of great upheaval and dramas because you inevitably have to develop them. With this mucking out and deciding what remains and what has to go, we ostensibly clear away the dead, but at the same time we sort ourselves and our own stories anew. That is why this work is so intense - not because of the objects or the living conditions of the deceased. But because we have to learn to tell ourselves what is important and what is not. And from this a new power emerges that belongs to us alone.

Keepsake of bumpy farewells

When you become a bereaved, you recognize (or even in the transition from long illnesses) how people tick, how they were built. As with ruins, you can see where the staircases were, where the stable walls, where the less resilient ones. In this painful process, you learn how to be self-made. Where to strengthen walls. Which you could tear down because you don't even need them there. And where you would actually rather have a balcony. Deprived of the last witnesses of our own childhood, we say goodbye not only to the dead, but also to the people we ourselves used to be. "You are now sitting in the first row without feet," a friend told me at the time, and that sounded tough, but good. Because the first row without feet also means that it is your own decisions that count and apply, and the image of yourself that you have, not that that someone else had, which you may have tried to correspond to for a long time. And suddenly you realize, completely reconciled, that even this person has tried to correspond to someone else. It is the simple realization: Parents are only human too.

By the way, I got the most beautiful inherited objects from people who gave them to me as an inheritance during my lifetime. The age-old godmother who pushed a chain into my grandmother's hand when I was in my mid-90s. I had the baby with me at the time, and when it was handed over it was suddenly crystal clear that we might never see each other again. It was another moment of permeability, beautiful, completely undramatic, not at all sentimental, sun-drenched in winter. Things end and others go on, in between an old woman who was once young gives another a necklace from a woman who only knew her from stories.

Another narrow gold chain, which my casual aunt, the heroine of my youth, bought as a young woman from a better jeweler, although she could not afford it, was given to me with the following words: "Take it and wear it "It suits you, I don't like it, and anyway, my old neck, how does it look and I will love you forever, even after death." She has been telling me that for 20 years, to be on the safe side, my reaction fluctuates between emotion and annoyance every time, but we both know that the moment will come when I need this sentence.

I brought some silly souvenirs from the last vacation together with my parents, which was a bit of a bumpy goodbye due to age. Within weeks they fell apart in my hand. A week later, when my father had become a barely recognizable person due to a serious illness, I had the feeling that he would stay with me if the souvenirs were intact. Until I realized that it's not things that can keep it for me, just myself and my memory. The creation of meaning in your own head.

Your responsibility

Impermanence is a dog and "mortality is a scandal", as a friend once said. But: it is also an emancipation. New generations no longer have to handle things in the actual and figurative sense as the generation before them. It's the hard times that raise big questions, but also make big decisions easier. "Will it worry me on my deathbed?" I have been asking myself ever since, to find out what the real size of a problem is. There is surprisingly little left. "We will all die" not as a tragedy, but as a liberation.

And yet: yes, people have a responsibility to their posterity. It shouldn't be up to the next generation to take out the garbage, not ideologically and not in the literal sense of the word. Things can be given away or agreed upon while still alive. Obtaining power of attorney, discussing inheritance, including where and how you want to be buried. You can have conversations about things and their origins, including your own. These are wild conversations in which you end up seamlessly with the things that were previously often unspoken. You remember them for a long time. And, when the time comes, falls back on it with a laughing eye.

So yes, mom, your title will be on your tombstone, and what's left of dad, I'll pour you back. And then I'll go on, take one step in front of the other and try to be myself, and some of what I'll need then I'll have learned from you. But no, not everything. I love you.

Your Julia