Part 4 of the Sentimental Treasures vs. Sentimental Clutter Series
In the last post I touched on heirloom clutter that was full-on clutter, the stuff you don’t want to keep. But life isn’t about stripping away everything. There are physical possessions that are cherished, loved and honored. That’s what this post is about, choosing the heirlooms to keep.
How do you sort through the possessions of someone who’s passed? How do you find that delicate balance between honoring their memory and moving forward with your life? It can be tricky. Bernice recently asked:
Question from Bernice:
I don’t seem to have too much trouble with hanging on to my kids memorabilia from when they were little (all young adults now). What I seem to have difficulty with is the leftover things from our parents who have passed. I have lost both my parents and my husband lost his father, all within the past 10 years.
We were not very close to our parents, sad to say. I think there is some guilt involved with getting rid of their belongings (talking a last box or so, most everything else is gone). I almost got rid of an OLD boy scout handbook not realizing it had been my father in law’s. Hubby was very upset about that. I think that if I actually got out those boxes I could get rid of a lot of it, but I still have a little nagging guilt there. I should see if there are anythings I might enjoy having sitting out though.
Looking forward to what you have to say on this subject Tanja!
Now this post isn’t just for Bernice, it’s for everyone, and it’s not just for people who are working through items of someone who’s passed. There are good tips for sentimental treasures here even if you’re not facing this situation.
I’m going to share the decisions I made after losing someone close to me. My father passed away in 2009. It was a long, long fading away for him with 10 years facing Alzheimers. If you’ve had a relative with Alzheimers you know what an emotional experience it is, watching someone you love fade in and out of coherence for years on end.
Even though I had ten years to prepare for his death it still shook me to my core when it happened. I think death is always like that. I feel blessed that I was able to be there with him, along with my mom and sister to share that final moment with him.
We had a loving relationship. Sure there were times we fought, and he hated the way I dressed in high school, and never liked any of my boyfriends :), but the good outweighed any of that minor stuff. He taught me the lost art of doing deep research. Any time I asked a question he’d say, “Go look it up.”
He wasn’t just trying to get me off his back. He would patiently wait while I dug out the right encyclopedia volume (this was before the internet!) and recite the passage to him out loud. Then he would tell me his further thoughts on the subject.
He also taught me to cherish the written word, to read ferociously and write with just as much passion as I read. He was a poet, a mystic, a scholar, and an adventurer. These are the memories I keep, the fun times, the serious times, and the lessons he taught me. And these are the physical possessions I keep to honor those memories:
Our Old Passports: These are really special to me. His is full. There are amazing countries and stamps and scrawled messages through the whole passport book. They’re a reminder of his adventuring ways. Mine is mostly empty, with Finland and Germany stamps. It’s a reminder that I have a lot more adventuring to do.
This is another handful of special memories I keep. One is a military photo I grew up looking at, then there’s the obituary notice and the funeral card. And right there in the middle is my most special treasure, my favorite poem that he ever wrote, typed out by his own hand. Out of boxes and boxes of poetry I consolidated myself down to this one from him. It’s an amazing glimpse into his trips over the Himalayas as a hump flyer during World War II, seeing the clouds pass and and old monk in meditation in a cave as he flew by him. maybe I’ll share it with you all someday. For me keeping that honors the memory of my father as a writer and a scholar.
And then there are the photographs. I have a handful of special photos, like this one. This one reminds me of how funny my dad could be. My sister got him to wear this garb on Saint Patrick’s day one year. I honor his sense of humor and ability to dance on the light side of life with this memory.
All of those other items fit nicely in the bottom shelf of my jewelry box. I pull them out when I want to walk down memory lane. They’re tucked away but cared for and treasured. And then I have one other piece I keep. It’s something I keep out in my life, in use. It’s a small box I bought for him for Christmas one year. You can’t see the top of it but it has a hand carved image of a bearded man on it, kind of like a green man or father time image. My poppa always wore a beard so it reminded me of him when I bought it for him. I chose to take it back and keep it as a memory of him after he passed.
And that’s it. Those are the memories I keep and the physical reminders of those memories. It’s not a lot and all of the items are very small. For me it’s the perfect amount. Everything, including the small wooden box, can fit in the bottom of my jewelry box. Small things, big memories.
So what about your treasures? Have you faced this and still have some unsorted boxes stored in your garage like Bernice? Here’s my advice for what to do if you’re facing this situation:
Give Yourself Time: After he passed there was the natural grieving time. I didn’t do much of anything at all except drag myself to work and back for 6 months. I needed that time to go inwards, reflect on my father and release him from this life. It wasn’t time yet for sorting through all those physical memories.
Listen To Your Inner Self: You’ll know when the time is right. For me, I had a good relationship with my father. Most of my memories are good ones. So 6 months was what it took for me to be ready. Bernice, since you had a strained relationship with your family, listen to your inner self and you’ll know when you’re ready to dig into those possessions and the emotions attached to them. I had a friend who took 15 years to go through the boxes she’d kept from her father. She wasn’t ready yet. 15 years later she was.
Find the Treasured Memories: When you’re ready, set aside a day. Emotions are likely to rise. Gather up all of the memory items associated with that person and let yourself explore the feelings that pop up. Anything that reminds you of something negative doesn’t need to be in your life. Hold on to the good memories you have of them. Even if the relationship was very strained, there are probably a few good memories hiding in your memorabilia of them. Listen to your heart and discover them, then lovingly part with the rest.
Less is More: With photos and all I have under 20 items that I’ve kept that remind me of my poppa. Those small numbers let me fully cherish each and every one of them. Your numbers might be different and that’s just fine!
So what do you think? Have you faced this situation? How did you handle it? Do you have any thoughts to share with Bernice? What are your treasured possessions that you keep? Most important… how are you honoring your memories?