On March 2, 2005, my father-in-law died somewhat unexpectedly. He had been in the hospital for about a week or so, and had been told with a couple of lifestyle changes, he probably had about 2 years left. Instead of going home the day after being told this, he died.
Ernie had only been a part of my life for 5 years and I only saw him a handful of times as we lived in different states. As his only child, James was the sole beneficiary of everything he had.
After the funeral, we went through his things and packed up all his paperwork and the mementos James wanted to keep. The boxes (actually, they were those red and green holiday totes) were first shipped via UPS to our home in Arizona and then moved with us back up here to Washington. They sat in our office unopened for just under 3 years. James was just never ready to go through them. I understood completely: my dad had died not quite 4 months before his and the boxes of my dad's things we shipped home had not been gone through either. It was I who finally opened the boxes of Ernie's things. I needed pictures for James' memorial DVD.
Several months ago, I went through the boxes a little more thoroughly so I could see if there were any reminders of Ernie I wanted to keep and to repack the rest in boxes a little more suitable for shipping so I could send the things to Ernie's sister to distribute to the family. It was an overwhelming project I never finished, until today. The reminders of my father-in-law's life boil down to two boxes. I am saddened by this even though I know a person's life is measured by far more than just their material, "prized" possessions.
There are pictures. And most importantly, there are the memories. The first time I met Ernie was June 2000. He and his girlfriend decided to take a vacation up here so Ernie could be here to celebrate James' birthday with him. James and I had been together for 6 months and weren't officially living together yet, which made it a little less nerve-wracking for me. If it didn't go well, I could escape. It turned out I had nothing to worry about. Not really knowing what to do to entertain them, we ended up going to Seattle and spending a wonderful day at the Pike Street Market, the Space Needle and the Aquarium.
The next time I saw Ernie was about a year later. We decided to go to Reno and Sacramento for a long Easter weekend. When I met Ernie, I was going through my auburn-hair phase. By this time, I had grown tired of the upkeep and had gone back a more natural dark brown. When he saw me, he informed me that I was going to make a liar out of him because he had told everyone I was a redhead. He was not happy about this! He got over it quickly however. For Easter dinner, we had both tacos and spaghetti to honor his heritage and mine. He wanted me to feel welcome. Ever since then, I have only wanted to have tacos for Easter dinner. (James made the BEST tacos!)
It was also during this visit that, thanks to my severe allergies, he started calling me "Heather under the weather." From then on, every time he called and I answered the phone, he would ask "is this Heather under the weather?" If James answered, he would ask James how Heather under the weather was doing.
I liked going to visit Ernie. His house was very quiet and had a homey feel to it. Ernie made me laugh, and he made it clear I was part of the family whether James planned to marry me or not. I loved to watch the interaction and see the love between James and Ernie. Plus, James always made fun of me for watching Lifetime, and Ernie loved the cheesy Lifetime movies. I never saw his TV on another channel unless he went out for something and James changed it. Funny how James never made fun of Ernie for that...
The one thing I will always remember the most about Ernie is how much he loved James. Ernie was actually James' adoptive father, but he loved James more than life itself. You could see it in his eyes and you could hear it in his voice. James was his boy. I have rarely seen as much love pour out for another as the love Ernie had for his boy.
It's hard to see the material aspects of this man's life reduced to two boxes. I think this is part of the reason I have not been able to bring myself to box up James' things yet. Each of his things are here for a reason. They have meaning and memory attached. To put that away in a box is so cold and impersonal. It took me 4 years to unpack my dad's things and 4 1/2 to pack up Ernie's things to send off. My grandma's things have been sitting here in their box for 2 1/2 years and I am in no hurry to unpack that box. Four years seems to be my time line. I do feel it is time to start on James' things though. I feel I cannot completely move forward until I do. I cannot completely accept he is not coming back when our home looks just like it did the day he died. I am just not sure I have the strength to see the physical reminders of the man I planned to spend the rest of my life with reduced to just a couple of boxes but I know I need to try.