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Submitted by Virginia Watts on Thu, 11/02/2017 - 21:32

Responsibility for family documents is a heavy burden. There is so much. So many receipts, records of transactions, legal documents that won't be denied a place in history. But what really matters?

I have been shifting living space for eight years to accommodate my Dad's paper trail. I've sorted through it countless times, trying to decipher what is necessary to keep. But why? He's dead. My mother is dead. His second wife is dead, as is her daughter and anyone who wants any of the documents that validated her life.

I have birth certificates, death certificates, hard evidence that these people lived and died. And I have the memories of my own connection with all of them that still are warm but also cold with recriminations and self-doubt.  

Today I sifted through, once again, the weighty evidence of documentation that provides the ballast for the living, and the burden for those who live after them. Bills were paid -- here are all the receipts! Wills were made -- here are the ones that are now defunct and the final ones that were not valid! Wishes made on paper that those who lived on made every possible effort to fulfill.

But we couldn't. The living wishes cannot always be fulfilled by the survivors. Those designated as executors may not be willing to carry out the task. Those who try may be frustrated in the attempt to do so. The resources of the living may not be enough for the dead. Or enough for the legal systems that don't help those who are beneficiaries of meager resources to pay off outstanding debt. 

Death takes you by surprise. Usually. And if you have been challenged by caring for someone who is disabled, no longer a partner in the daily order of sleep, waking, eating, enjoyment -- your emotional and physical stores may well be depleted before your financial means have totally run out. You can't put your loved one's affairs in order, and that makes it impossible to put your own in place.

It happens all the time. And the things left behind -- continue to haunt the living. We are heirs of the consequences of living. We long to have an inheritance that makes our own existence more easy, more sane, more enlightened. 

But what we get is the hard scrabble through the things that are left. "Where's the this?" " Where's the that?" "I was assured they were left to me!"

But the this and the that are never what we are really after. What we hope to discover is some talisman, some memory captured in writing, some thing that tells us "You were precious to me, I saw who you were, who you are, and I am glad." 

What we get are dusty papers that chronicle the daily life, peppered with some talismans of regret or pain. A few photos of moments of joy. A few dusty remembrances that we can't recognize, or value. 

I spent today sorting through the burden of inherited responsibility. But it is responsibility to the dead. I'm leaving it to them.

I have my own memories, that are very much alive. And that's enough. That's all I will ever need.