I doubt that our lives are merely the sums of our possessions

12 December 2013

This piece I read on Kottke last week had me wondering about the way we… measure someone’s achievements, success, or net worth, upon their death. In October US comedian and author David Sedaris wrote about the suicide of his youngest sister, Tiffany, earlier this year. Judging from her will, Tiffany appeared to have become estranged, to some degree, from her family, but it was Sedaris’ reference to his late sister’s possessions, or lack thereof, that caught my eye:

Compared with most forty-nine-year-olds, or even most forty-nine-month-olds, Tiffany didn’t have much. She did leave a will, though. In it, she decreed that we, her family, could not have her body or attend her memorial service. “So put that in your pipe and smoke it,” our mother would have said. A few days after getting the news, my sister Amy drove to Somerville with a friend and collected two boxes of things from Tiffany’s room: family photographs, many of which had been ripped into pieces, comment cards from a neighborhood grocery store, notebooks, receipts.

In response, Michael Knoblach, a friend of Tiffany’s, chastised Sedaris in an article he wrote for the Wicked Local Somerville. Among other points, Knoblach wished to make clear that Tiffany’s estate amounted to more than just two boxes of belongings:

I found David Sedaris’ article, “Now we are five,” in the Oct. 28 New Yorker to be obviously self-serving, often grossly inaccurate, almost completely unresearched and, at times, outright callous. Some of her family had been more than decent, loving and kind to her. “Two lousy boxes” is not Tiffany’s legacy. After her sister left with that meager lot, her house was still full of treasures. More than two vanloads of possession were pulled from there and other locations by friends.

Tiffany may have been troubled, but it is clear her life had value far beyond her possessions, regardless of their quantity.

Originally published Thursday 12 December 2013

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