01 June 2011

to-do: manage to-do list

When my dad called to tell us that my grandpa had passed away, had not made it through the night up at the Mayo Clinic, I sat my mother down and said, "We need to make a to-do list."

I looked around my parents' house in Iowa for paper—since they've remodeled the living room, I don't always know where to find these necessities—and all I could find were small scratchpads. No, that would not do. We needed more room than a small scrap would allow.

I pulled paper out of the printer and went to work. Who to contact. What pictures to pull together for the memorial slideshow. Everything we needed to get from Sunnybrook, his assisted living home. What to do to get the house ready for guests.

Over the weekend, the list grew. It expanded to those little scraps of paper because I started to grab whatever was handy when a new list came to mind. Must not lose track of details.


Grocery shopping.

Where everyone would sleep in my parents' house.

How many people would be coming to the dinner after the visitation and how many would come to the lunch after the funeral. {I've said the word funeral so much in the past few days that it's started to sound like a nonsense word, a made-up word, which I guess all words are at their core. They're all just scratches we use to try to make sense of what has happened.}

Timing of those meals: when should the lasagna go in and when should we pull the garlic bread out?

What bowl we should serve the salad in and a list of all the serving utensils we would need.

List upon list. Detail upon detail.

You may be thinking: were you making all these lists to avoid facing the reality of the situation? To avoid thinking about how your grandpa had just died? To avoid the emotion?

Maybe you aren't thinking that, but I did, a little bit. When your reaction to your grandpa's death is sadness and hurt mixed with a to-do list, you think that.

There's irony in this, but I don't care: I even made processing Grandpa's passing {at least the initial processing—there's always more processing to do} a to-do list item. I told myself to journal, which is the best way I know to process and feel and understand why I'm feeling what I am. Why I felt so compelled to make so many to-do lists.

And here is what I've come up with.

I did it because it helped bring control to an uncontrolled situation.

I did it because I didn't want to miss any details.

I did it because that's the way my mind works.

I did it because I wanted to be helpful.

I did it because I come from a very practical family.

And I did it because I loved my grandpa and I wanted to make sure that the family had everything they needed to be able to celebrate his life, including good meals and clean, comfortable beds to rest in.

Some of these to-do lists are now in my wallet, the ones written on scraps of paper when the idea and moment struck. I'll carry them for awhile, perhaps longer than I need to, but do you know what I found when I went through the boxes of family records and pictures over the weekend?

My great-great-grandfather, John Walker, had a wallet stuffed full of scraps of paper. I went through it, unfolding the papers carefully because I was scared that one touch would rip apart my family history, and I found receipts for farm equipment and services rendered. The typical stuff of a wallet—at least the wallet of a man farming in Iowa in the late 1800s.

But I also found lists. What the oats sold for. How many hogs he had at a certain point. When to plant and when to reap {there is a time for everything}. Who bought the corn. What tools needed mending.

I told you I come from a very practical family: lists are in our blood.


  1. This is lovely--as are you. Thinking of you in this time of transition.

  2. Thanks so much, Sommer...! Even just writing this was helpful and slightly cathartic.

  3. Heartfelt condolences for your loss, Kamiah.

    Your beautiful entry reminded me of the following truth: People grieve in different ways. Your way of grieving is immune to reproach, whether from an imagined blog reader or a small part of yourself. There is poetry in your grief and in your description of it. Your lists are found poetry.

  4. Thank you, Andrew, for your comment -- I truly appreciate it.



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