Of Grave Concern: He who dies with the most toys may win, but he’s still dead; so value the right ‘stuff’

FEATURE — I remember graduating from high school in Waterloo, Iowa, and being so pleased that I was finally done. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed high school life, but I was ready to pack my “stuff” and move on to college life – to spread my wings and fly!

I had just two pieces of luggage then as I boarded the plane and set out to conquer the world.

Now an adult, when I recently moved from the state of Washington to St. George, Utah, I found myself standing in front of two huge trucks full of…well…more stuff.

“What happened?” I thought. Yes, since graduating high school, I had finished my degrees, got married and had children, but really? Where did all of this “stuff” come from? Did my neighbor sneak some of their unwanted things into those trucks? No, it was all mine.

I know we all need some “stuff” – the basics of clothing and shelter – and I suppose there’s stuff we want but don’t really need. There’s even the stuff we desire but could never afford or perhaps buy even if we can’t afford it.

There it all is, staring us in the face every day, both the necessities and the toys – the “stuff” of our lives. And I wonder if we have lost the real importance of life. Are we “investing” in our family and friends, the things of the heart as our most important asset? Or are we filling our lives with stuff to make up for estranged family relationships, loneliness or sadness? The list can go on.

As a funeral director, one night I was called out by the coroner in Washington. A man had been found deceased in his home. I was called on to make the “removal” and bring him back to my funeral home. I was told he had no known family members.

As I entered his home, I saw his body on the floor next to his couch. Around him were scattered bank statements and other mail. His accounts had large sums of money in them. I peered around his living area and saw a few Emmy awards and Oscars on his fireplace mantle.

His home was full of movie memorabilia, newspapers stacked high to the ceiling, many furnishings and lots of other stuff. Yet there he lay, very much alone with no family or friends – just his stuff. His neighbors really did not know him. I have seen this type of scene repeated many times over in my career.

Each morning I enter the funeral home and see those who have passed the night before, rich and poor, famous and the average person. There they lay under a clean white sheet, so still, quite equal in death. No “stuff” around them. Some with surviving loved ones and yet others with no one to call family or friend.

There is something very sobering about such a moment that helps keep me tuned into the things that matter most. It has been said that “you can’t take it with you,” and my friends, I can confirm that.

“The tugs and pulls of the world are powerful,” Neal A. Maxwell once said. “Worldly lifestyles are cleverly reinforced by the rationalization ‘Everybody is doing it,’ thus fanning or feigning a majority. Products are promoted and attitudes engendered by clever niche marketing.”

Maxwell quoted Peter in The Bible. ‘”Of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage,’” Maxwell said, and added, “There are so many personalized prisons.”

While the “stuff” of this world can bring some sense of happiness, if we are not careful, we may have a hard time seeing over the top of our stack of stuff to that which is most important. Malcolm Forbes coined the phrase “He who dies with the most toys wins.” As a funeral director I would add, but he is still dead.

I believe that the gift of life and the difference we can make is more important than all the stuff we gather.

The world offers many comforts that are good; however, if we are not careful materialism can tend to change our focus onto ourselves rather then others. This old world needs each one of us to reach out and make a positive difference in the lives of those we come in contact with. A more loving, kind, gentle and respectful world can make all the difference. It starts with each of us, and that is good “stuff.”

Written by DAVID JOHN COOK, public relations and funeral director for Spilsbury Mortuary.

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Resources

  • Spilsbury Mortuary | Address: 110 S. Bluff St., St. George |  Telephone: 435-673-2454 | Website.
    • Hurricane location | Address: 25 N. 2000 West, Hurricane | Telephone: 435-635-2212.

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