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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Sorry for your loss

I had to make a lot of phone calls after my father died. Of course there were the big ones that very evening, to my brother, my children, the rabbi, relatives, and, of course, the chevra kaddisha (burial society). Then to many others regarding arrangements for the funeral and shiva that followed.

After the shiva ended, and "real life" reimposed itself, there other phone calls, of a very different nature. These involved more mundane matters: mostly cancelling various services that my father had. I didn't have to make these kinds of calls when my mother died seven and a half years ago, but when your second parent dies, you have to deal with all that they accumulated during their lives together: the photos, the heirlooms, the art objects, things handing the walls, in drawers, in cabinets, in book shelves, all the stuff your parents' surrounded themselves with during their lives. Everything has to be dealt with, distributed, disposed, and, in the case of subscriptions, cancelled.

And so I made a list and one by one began calling to cancel them. There was the Wall Street Journal (he long ago switched to the journal from the New York Times). The cable TV service. His cell phone line. Life Line. Magazine subscriptions. Credit cards. His health insurance provider. The university from which he drew a pension. Social security. Medicare.

Workers have been trained to respond to requests to cancel service by trying to convince you to keep it. And so they inevitably ask why you are cancelling the service. But when you respond by saying you are calling because your father died, you short circuit any attempt at business negotiation. Their reaction is, at first, a pause and then the words "sorry for your loss." The employees became very helpful and sympathetic. Their humanity had been exposed. Within minutes, the service was cancelled.

In the beginning when I had to make these calls, I would tear up to these complete strangers when explaining the reason for my call. After a while the calls became easier, less emotional. I'm not sure that "sorry for your loss" is the best response to hearing news of another person's father, but it's fine when coming from a customer service employee of a company. These words by disembodied voices, as well as the knowledge I'd accomplished another small step to tying up the many strands of life left by my father's passing, provided, in its own way, some small measure of comfort.

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