Uncluttering the Soul
Posted on February 22, 2016
A few weeks after my 25 year old brother died in the early 1990s, some of his friends volunteered to go to his small room in a share house on Brunswick Road and pack his things up. Because of his living arrangements – dead men don’t tend to pay rent – we didn’t have the luxury of waiting, and the task of further reducing the person that he had been to mere boxes of stuff was more than we, his family could stomach. So it fell to his friends to do it.
Not long after, one of these friends wrote a short story about him. Published in Readers Digest, the fictional piece reflected the view that after a person dies, they become only what others remember of them, nothing more and nothing less. It has always resonated with me, but of course we also leave behind our earthly possessions, those various objects that you “can’t take with you”. The thing about things though is that without context, those possessions become divorced from the meanings that were attached to them when the people who collected them and owned them were alive, and the objects that don’t hold appeal to their inheritors are sometimes reduced to landfill or the anonymous shelves of opportunity shops.
As it is when we are moving houses, my brother’s life boiled down to a few boxes, except that these boxes were never unpacked. The normal things that you might expect to find within the personal effects of a 25 year old man, like a few Penthouse magazines and the like, had been carefully edited and removed, leaving the appearance of a sanitised, family friendly picture. One of the boxes was a Mexican pressed tin trunk, which I still often stub my toe upon near the doorway of my mother’s bedroom. It’s quite beautiful, but the things that remain encased within appear mostly banal, uni work and slides, sheafs of paper that make little sense to any of us. A small pile of CDs in their cases, representative of the time that he died, remain neatly stacked inside. Once, I pulled one of these CDs out and discovered a perfectly preserved fingerprint there. The little oval, when I found it, with its whorls and lines took my breath away.
Aside from the cartons were his art and graphics folios. They are his most important physical legacy. It took years for me to ask for pieces from within the folio box, more years still to begin framing them and hanging his drawings throughout my house. It has been 23 years, his chapter closed in 1993, but we subtly embroider traces of his presence upon the very absence which enfolds him. The colours of his illustrations draw my children’s eyes, and I remember him.
*The featured image is by Nic from Little Visuals. Nic ran this site for 13 weeks, showcasing and sharing his stunning photography. Like my brother, he was 25 years old while beginning this venture. The day after he turned 26, he died suddenly from a cardiac attack. His family now continue to allow people to use Nic’s images, with a request that they donate a small amount to a scheme to provide defibrillator machines in schools in the UK. Go take a look. It seemed a most fitting place to take an image from.
Linking up with Essentially Jess for #IBOT