In the process of moving TO Chicago, I had emptied out my safety deposit box. In one envelope I had my birth certificate and my baptismal certificate. In the process of looking for something else, I set the two envelopes aside with some other important papers - and promptly lost them all.
Flash forward three years - and I'm weeding through boxes, trying to thin out what I'm taking with me next weekend. I found two things that I'd been looking for - the first one, of course, was the birth and baptismal certificates. (Interestingly enough, in the same envelope was my father's birth certificate and Mom & Dad's marriage certificate, too.)
The second thing I found was my last copy of The Gentle Closings Companion, by Ted Menten. His foursome of end-of-life texts are must-haves for anyone dealing with death, dying, and saying goodbye:
- Gentle Closings: How to Say Goodbye To Someone You Love
- The Gentle Closings Companion: Questions and Answers for Coping With the Death of Someone You Love
- After Goodbye: How to Begin Again After the Death of Someone You Love
- Where Is Heaven? : Children's Wisdom on Facing Death
The power of these books is that (a) they come out of Menten's years of experience working with terminally ill children and adults, and (b) they are not a set of instructions, but descriptions of experience. Menten says his books are "not so much a how-to as a how you might guide to finding closure in the dying process. He encourages people to live, rather than fighting to stay alive, which sometimes puts him at odds with doctors who want to prolong the days of life at the expense of the joy of living.
The amazing thing is that all these books have been remaindered - almost all are out of print, but can be picked up from wholesalers for a penny, and the shipping costs more than the book. So I took the time to get a couple extra copies of TGCC, because I keep giving them away to people who need them.
At any rate, I opened up the Gentle Closings Companion - a book of dozens of letters he has received over the years from readers, and responses to them. And in an article about labels, Menten wrote these simple words:
And I think about another label. The original little label that was imprinted on my fanny at the moment of my birth. There, in clear, simple block letters, it reads: RETURN TO SENDER.I like that image.
Maybe it's just my emotional state about this move, but finding my birth certificate and rediscovering my "return instructions" on the same night is a fascinating coincidence.