Losing a Father, Leaving a Legacy

by Brenna Solop

I hope you’ve had a chance to read my first official blog for Northwell Health’s The Well, entitled “The Day I Took Away My Dad’s Car Keys.” It can be found at https://thewell.northwell.edu/true-story/day-i-took-away-my-dads-car-keys and describes the very relatable struggle to convince a loved one whose senses are diminished to give up driving. It was such a thrill for my father, Arthur, to see an article on such a popular site featuring his “retirement from the road.” He was extremely proud of it and hoped it helped, even if just in a single case, to make the streets safer for all.

Sadly, my father passed away on February 1st of this year due to heart complications.

That million-dollar smile he flashes in the article’s photo has not left my mind since. He put off taking the picture, but finally did after spending a small fortune on getting his teeth fixed. We never even got a chance to take him out for a fancy steak dinner to give his new choppers a test drive.

My father was the smartest person I’ve ever known. A Renaissance man, well-versed in science, history, religion, language, literature, sports and music. He was also the most well-read man I’ve ever known, and the library he has left behind is overwhelming, well in excess of 5,000 books. Some of them I’ll keep; much of it is academia on math and astronomy and biology and physics that may as well be written in different languages.

I’m currently in the process of finding proper venues to donate many of these to – this is going to be quite the undertaking. Some independently-owned bookshops will purchase small collections or certain topics. Condition and desirability are extremely important, and don’t expect a big profit. Of course, most libraries will take book donations (must also be in good condition; no musty books from the garage or attic) and some schools will, too. If you suspect a book has value, for example a first edition of a popular title, it is relatively easy to look up online, or visit a local bookshop, library or antique dealer for a more expert opinion.

Unfortunately, I’ve been down this road before. My mother passed in 2008, and as a former art teacher, active artist and crafter, she hoarded objects she felt she could turn into masterpieces (and she could). It took years to go through what she left behind. Much of it was donated to schools, art programs and aspiring art teachers. Of course, going through it all is so psychologically taxing, and while it’s hard to let go of, it’s satisfying to think it’s going to make someone else happy.

Perhaps you’re already dreading the reality of inheriting a loved one’s collection of – whatever – and you are not alone. Those of us in the middle-aged landscape are starting to think, “What the hell am I gonna do with all their stuff?” Yes, many of our parents liked having stuff. Mostly because their parents didn’t have much stuff. And cheaper materials, advances in manufacturing and the importing boom led to the perfect storm: more stuff available for less. And guess who’s getting left to deal with it? (If you answered “dumpster” you’re stronger than I am.)

Even tougher than the clutter to deal with, is the emptiness. I’m now part of an exclusive club amongst my friends; an “orphan.” I only have a couple of very close friends, around my age, who are also without parents. They have been a source of solace and wisdom, and thinking back I now realize they never cringed when the rest of us vented our petty frustrations with our living parents. These friends never wanted extra pity thrown their way due to their losses. And thanks to the example they’ve set, I don’t want it, either.

Even with my show of strength, my friends – my priceless support network – are crestfallen over my situation, and are starting to reflect going through the same sooner than later. Now I can’t pretend I’ve had some grand epiphany going through this process, but I do share with them whatever advice I can.

Speaking of advice: when your friends offer to help you clean out, let them. Sometimes they even want some stuff! Another piece of advice: give it to them.

Honestly, that’s the most surreal part of this; the freedom to be the decision-maker in all facets. Financial and property decisions. The thought of being the “oldest” family member at certain gatherings. Oh, and the paperwork. The tons and tons and tons of paperwork. Get yourself a quality paper shredder. You’ll need it.

So, there’s obviously much to shed (and shred) when someone leaves this world, but that doesn’t mean all that’s left are a few empty bookshelves and extra room in the coat closet. There’s a legacy – something you can’t put a garage sale price tag on or toss in a bin.

My father died at home, late at night and unexpectedly, so when the emergency personnel showed up promptly after I called 9-1-1, it turned into a marathon. Since it was so late, the medical examiner had trouble reaching my father’s doctor, whose cause of death determination was needed to sign off on the death certificate. It held things up for hours. So in addition to being an emotionally devastating night, it also subjected me and my sister to long, awkward pauses of silence while surrounded by police officers and EMTs.

Finally, I reached for a printed copy of “The Day I Took Away My Dad’s Keys” blog sitting on my dad’s coffee table – which he looked at on a daily basis. I handed it to a big, burly veteran cop.

“This is an article I wrote about my dad. It’s about the struggle to get him to stop driving, since his reflexes had dulled, and he became a danger to himself and others.”

The officer started to read it, giving it honest attention, and was clearly moved. When he finished, he looked at me and asked, “Where can I find this online? I’m going through the same thing with my father right now, and I want to read it to him.”

I explained it was on Northwell Health’s blog, The Well, but I truly thought he must be pulling my leg. “Come on,” I said. “You’re a police officer. If anyone can get someone to stop driving, it’s you.”

He looked at me, shaking his head. “I wish that were true. But I’m still his kid, and he still thinks he has authority over me. And I don’t want to disrespect him – so I usually let him have his way. But when it comes to something like this,” he waved the article in his large hand, “you’re right. It’s a matter of protecting him and others. I’m definitely sharing this with him.”

I hope he did. I hope it worked.

My father left behind many things – books, fishing rods, an endless list of corny jokes. Yet, he also agreed to let me publicly tell a personal account that spotlighted his stubbornness. He understood the value it carried.

If one more child is safer walking to school today, that’s his legacy. Thanks, Dad.

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