County Lines by Bob
My father died last year after Thanksgiving. He went out without
a whine or a whimper, in his own room, in his own bed, exactly like
he wanted, exactly like he planned. He exhaled his last breath.
His light faded and disappeared. His body was cold and gray within
My feelings were mixed at the time. Sad because he was gone. Glad
because he was no longer in pain. Angry because the doctor didn't
discover Dad's cancer until it was too late. When I went back home
recently, Mom asked me to go through my father's things. "Keep
what you want. Get rid of the rest." I didn't want to go through
Dad's things. But Mom asked me to, so I did.
Box after box after box, Dad's things were stacked all over the
place. In his bedroom closet. In the utility room. In the two spare
utility sheds. In the attic. In the garage.
At first the thought of sorting through all the boxes was overwhelming.
But then I remembered something Dad taught me: To complete a big
job, divide it into smaller jobs.
I was approaching the task from the wrong direction. Instead of
focusing on the dozens and dozens of boxes, I needed to concentrate
on one box at a time. One step followed by the next. You can't get
to the end of the road in a single giant leap. If you could, you
wouldn't appreciate the trip.
Dad also taught me to work as hard as I can to do the best I can.
This doesn't mean doing things perfectly. Perfection is unattainable.
But doing your best can always be achieved if you're willing to
When I agreed to sort through the boxes, I did so under one condition.
Everyone, including my mother, had to leave me alone while I went
through Dad's things.
I was opening the first box, when it suddenly hit me. I didn't
have to go through the boxes, I could load them up and carry them
to a thrift shop. But a little voice in my head said, "Nope,
you can't do that. It wouldn't be right."
Deep within I knew sorting through the things in the boxes wasn't
really about sorting through things, wasn't really about deciding
what to give away and what to keep. In the end, things are only
things. When compared to love, things have no value.
When compared to my love for Dad, the things in the boxes were
worthless. But I needed to sort through them.
Not only had I promised Mom, but touching something that once belonged
to Dad then letting it go was a way to face the pain and the reality
of Dad's death. Don't run. Don't hide. Do what needs to be done,
no matter how badly it hurts.
As I sorted through the boxes, I placed things to keep in one pile
and things to give away in another.
When I felt like I could no longer stand sorting through Dad's
things, I would step outside and breathe deeply several times. Then
I would return to the boxes.
When I finished dozens of boxes were packed with things to give
away. One was less than half full of things to keep.
The following day I hauled the things to give away to a Hospice
The people from Hospice who cared for Dad during his last few months
treated him with kindness and compassion. The nurses from Hospice
didn't sugarcoat the truth. They gave it to me straight. "Your
father's dying. All we can do is try to reduce the pain." I
appreciated that. No false hope. No pretending Dad would get better.
A few minutes after Dad died, I was trying to find the number to
call for a hearse to pick up his body, when a nurse from Hospice
arrived. After I explained what had happened, she said, "Want
me to call?Ó All I could say was "Please."
As two men placed Dad's body in a hearse, I could see his thick,
gray hair sticking out from under a sheet. Dad was proud of his
hair. He didn't lose any during chemo or radiation treatments.
After Dad's death, several people commented on the need to find
closure following the death of a parent. I'm not sure where people
get such foolish notions. But it probably has something to do with
all the psychobabble that's being swallowed as the truth by the
The suffering felt after the death of a parent doesn't begin here
and end there. Life isn't a mathematical solution that leads from
A to B to C. Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be
Dad is dead. I miss him and I always will. But he's not far away.
When I'm with my brothers, I can hear and see Dad in their speech
and actions. When I look into a mirror, Dad's eyes look back at
Whenever I'm hammering a nail or sawing a piece of lumber or sanding
a board or writing a story, Dad will be there making sure I do the
best I can.
As long as I'm alive, Dad will live inside my heart. Even though
I can't touch him, Dad will be there, listening and responding in
ways that don't require words.
Overton County News
415 West Main Street
P.O. Box 479
Livingston, Tennessee 38570