This past August while on vacation in Wyoming experiencing all the wonders of nature, including 57 seconds of totality during the eclipse, we received “the call” that my dear Uncle Eddie had passed away. A few seconds before my cell phone rang, a heavy cloud cover blocked out the sun and a light rain shower grazed our shoulders while we dined outside in Cody, Wyoming.
Uncle Eddie passed away on August 24, 2017, exactly 16 years to the day after his younger sister, my mother, died, also while we were on vacation. We learned our lesson from my mother’s unexpected passing—be prepared. Sixteen years ago we returned from vacation and scrambled to find the deed to Mom’s cemetery plot and make arrangements for her burial under much duress.
With Uncle Eddie’s passing, we made two phone calls: to the rabbi to find out about his availability and the funeral director to do the same. Within a couple of hours we had the date and time scheduled, and our synagogue had notified the members of our loss.
There is a lot to be said about preplanning a funeral. Not a happy topic and not one that we want to think about. In the case of my uncle, it was all handled except for a few details in his obituary that required edits.
All my uncle’s affairs were in order and we knew exactly where everything was that we needed. If I can leave my readers with one message, and one message only, it’s this…the kindest act you can do for your loved ones is to leave your affairs in order.
Back to the afternoon in Cody. When I received the call, we were on our way to a Japanese internment camp museum in Powell, Wyoming. I turned to my husband, son and his girlfriend and said clearly, “We are going to Heart Mountain, Uncle Eddie would have liked that.” This was our second visit to Heart Mountain, a very special museum that deals with another kind of atrocity that took place during WWII, except this one took place on our soil.
My uncle accepted people at face value, and made no judgments about the color of their skin. His friends were international, engineers from all over the world who shared a love for their work and sharing knowledge with their students at NJIT, where he worked for 40+ years. After he retired he took up cycling and thus began his new career. He met people of all ages and backgrounds while he cycled across, up and down New Jersey, and rode across Iowa in the Registers Annual Great Bike Race Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), three times! His passion for learning and experiencing new things remained with him until the end. He always wanted to learn new words in Russian from the waitress at our weekly lunches out.
As far as organization, he was a complete mess. He was proud that his desk mirrored the photo taken of Albert Einstein’s desk on the day Einsten, his hero, died. During the last 10 years of Uncle Eddie’s life, my family (husband, sister, brother-in-law) became hands-on with the clearing out of Uncle Eddie and Aunt Frances’ home in Elizabeth. 2007 became the year of total dedication to surviving my full-time job from Monday to Friday, and dealing with clearing out their home and preparing it for sale on weekends. The only reason Don and I had any time off was to attend two weddings that required out-of-town car trips.
Lessons learned? Many!!! And as a result, the seeds were planted for my burgeoning career in home organizing. My senior clients have all become “meshpuchah” and my baby-boomer clients have also become extended family.
When Uncle Eddie called me in 2007 and asked for help with his tax return, I knew we were in for a ride of a lifetime. Looking back now with both him and Aunt Frances gone, I feel the void that their death has left in my life as well as the joy of knowing that we had an impact on their lives that was priceless. While we never know what the next phone call is going to bring, it pays to be prepared for life’s worst-case scenarios.
By Eileen Bergman
Eileen Bergman is a Professional Organizer, a proud member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD). Eileen is listed in the resource directory for the Hoarding Disorder Resource and Training Group. Eileen may be reached at 973-303-3236 or [email protected]