In February of 2003, I got a call early in the morning to say my Dad had passed away and when would we be able to get over from Canada to go through his flat. He had hired a solicitor, and had made a specific note on the will that no one was to go through his possessions except myself.
We were unable to go immediately but at the end of February we flew over to England and were met by the solicitor at Westgate-on-Sea railway station with a key to the flat.
I knew my father and stepmother were extremely untidy but they seemed always to find everything, or at least my stepmother did, so it was none of my business. My father never liked to throw any mail away "In case it might be important" he cautioned me. Old newspapers might have some integral item of news he might want to peruse in years to come.
When we started to go through everything we waded through newspapers at least 30 years old, junk mail from another era it seemed, and miscellaneous pieces of paper with no bearing on anything. We did come across some bills of lading from 1713, but were assured by the local antique dealer they were not worth anything in England, and I just couldn't be bothered to bring them back to Canada, so into the trash they went.
There were many old photos and books but I trashed them also. I suppose many people would have kept some stuff as memorabilia but I am very practical by nature, and knew anything I lugged back to Canada would only stay in a box on the shelf, probably until I died and my kids would throw it out, not knowing who the people in the photos were, or what significance the other things held.
One of the things I did bring back though, was an ancient cookbook, and I have found some recipes there that would have been impossible to find here in Canada.
It was worth going through the stuff though, and this is probably what my father had thought when he insisted I be the one to go through his things. We came across some bonds and other valuables, that no doubt he had forgotten where my step-mother had put them, and he figured I would find them and be able cash them in.
So that was the end of an era. I had only gone back to England four times since I came to Canada in 1968, once for an extended visit of six months, but mostly just for about 3 weeks or so. Now there is no one left so there is no reason to return.
Clearing through all that clutter, and having cleaned up after other elderly people while running a little business I had called 'Dust Bunnies', a cleaning business I started on Vancouver Island, convinced me that it is a service to others, especially those who will have to look after us when we get to old to do it ourselves, or those who will have to go through our things after our death, to get rid of the clutter now. Plus I can almost always find anything!
I remember going to a funeral when I lived in Fort St. John BC, and one of the things that was said about the man whose life we were celebrating, was that he had left everything neat and in order and that was a blessing for his bereaved widow. It struck me that that was the last act of love he could show his wife.