"What's Important? Not Peeling Paint"
by Jerrry Cowle

      My late wife and I consummately our lovely ranch house on a hillside with a gorgeous view of the blue Pacific Ocean in Pacific Palisades. Peeling paint? No problem; I always kept a matching gallon stored away for just that purpose. Ragged landscaping? Trim the bushes, or hire someone to do it. We kept our carpets, walls, furniture and kitchen appliances fresh, lovely and in perfect condition. No electrical or plumbing problems, even a leaky faucet, was left unrepaired for very long. The same went for our wardrobes and those of our three children.

      Then disaster struck out of nowhere. My wife discovered a lump in her breast. It was malignant. After a valiant, 19-month battle against that terrible disease, she died. Suddenly, in the throes of my grief, nothing material had any value. Our near-perfect home, all of our lovely possessions, everything meant absolutely nothing.

      The first time I forced myself to go into my wife's closets, I was struck with a desperate feeling of futility. Lovely dresses and tailored suits, all fresh and clean, hanging in a row. Evening gowns, slacks and blouses, shoes of every description. Tennis outfits and three brand new racquets she would never get to use. Drawers loaded with lingerie and hosiery. She would never wear any of these clothes again. A brand new Mazda RX-7 in the garage, my 20th wedding anniversary gift to her. She had driven it twice, for a total of about 40 miles.

      Hanging in our den/workroom was a half-completed tapestry that she would never finish. In our daughter's room was a partially finished patchwork quilt she was supposed to take with her to college. Both looked as though the creator had momentarily stepped away and would return to finish them.

      Death has a way of putting a perspective on possessions. They are simply that--meaningless things that always can be replaced.

      Perversely, stocks that had languished for years started rising with the booming market. But I had no one to cheer with. Real estate prices exploded and houses on our street were worth 10 or more times purchase prices; I couldn't have cared less. Just things, and replaceable.

      Seventeen years have passed since that sad and terrible time. My grief has faded, though her memory burns brightly as I remember the happy, healthy years. Two years later, I found new happiness with my present wife, a lady who had endured a similar ordeal with her late husband. We live in the same house I maintained so beautifully for all those years.

      I still work at it, though not as tenaciously. My wife and I have no problem living with worn furniture. Now I find I can shrug off frayed screens, peeling paint, myriad flaws that, in the past would have put me on the phone with various experts.

      We're handling the immediate problems--fixing our appliances, correcting plumbing and electrical breakdowns. As for the many other blips that crop up, we're more philosophical about spending precious time and energy to keep everything nearly perfect. We've set our priorities the way that suits us.

      Losing a loved one can do that to a person. What truly matters becomes painfully evident. Simply looking around a home that encompassed the joys and tastes and passions of two people, and then realizing that most of it has turned to dust puts possessions in their proper perspective. Everything is replaceable, except the departed loved one.

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