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Opinion

Essay: The value of what we leave behind

We are so much more than our possessions.

We are so much more than our possessions. Photo Credit: Getty Images

An elderly neighbor of mine died recently. Sadly, I never met him. He lived in the house a few doors down for only a few years. He had lost his wife and moved from their home in Northport to a well-kept Cape Cod in our neighborhood in East Northport.

Another neighbor shared his obituary. He lived a rich life, served in the military, worked in the defense industry, led charitable causes in his community, loved to golf, taught at a local college, raised a wonderful family and survived two heart surgeries. After his military service, he had settled in Northport. He found this seaside community similar to his boyhood home by the sea in Massachusetts.

I learned more when I met his son, daughter-in-law and grandsons at the estate sale they held at his home. They were lovely people and his son spoke so lovingly of his father and his life.

“My dad had 90 great years and just 12 bad days at the end,” he said. The son didn’t explain quite what he meant, but what a poignant way to look at someone’s life. I felt sad that I had never met his father and members of his wonderful family until this moment. It was the first and only time I was in my neighbor’s home. Whether he had lived a glamorous life or just a simple one, I only wish I had seen him and said hello at least once.

Over the next few days, people came in and out of the house during the estate sale. They purchased furniture and some of the last possessions of this man. I saw clothes, bedding, kitchen ware, artwork, golf clubs and more. Afterward, some leftover items were placed at the curb: three bicycles, some chairs, a few small tables and other furniture, trinkets and some hats — all under a sign with the word FREE.

A dumpster was dropped there a few days later, and remaining items were put into it for disposal. It sat in the driveway to be trucked away.

There would seem to be few physical signs remaining in the home of the last few years of this veteran, businessman, philanthropist, athlete, father, husband and grandfather — a pillar of the community.

Nothing in that dumpster could approach the value of the memories that his family will hold fast, or of his contributions to their lives and ours.

We are so much more than our possessions. Especially at this time of year — when we are bombarded with sales and shopping, and the need for more and more stuff to make us better, happier, prettier and more successful — I try to remember what I really value in life, because everything else might just end up in a dumpster.

Reader Karen Hayes lives in East Northport.

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