Thursday, 25 August 2011

Dilemma


It will remain one day when dad has gone, to empty their house. Of course every child has to face this.  I look around at the display cabinet with all my mother's beautiful china tea sets, cut glass trifle bowls and whiskey glasses;  I see her bookcase full to bursting - some lovely books  - and then looking around the house, all her ornaments full of memories, some hers, some mine.  There are all the birthday gifts, the token gifts I brought back for her from school holidays abroad, the cockerel from Portugal, the cuckoo clock from Switzerland. When mom died, I took comfort from her sister, my dear aunt and my cousin - we all took home something to remember her by. My dad's bedroom bears witness to his interests in life, his photography equipment,  hammers and nails and boxes of tools and bits of wood. Perhaps my brother will want a few things but most have been replaced by modern technology. Maybe close family will want a few things, although I know my own children don't. They don't like clutter or ornaments, they drink out of mugs. Why do I want none of these things and yet I can't bear the thought of donating everything to strangers. Would I prefer therefore to burn everything?  Why do I feel this way? I can imagine I would want to take home the framed photographs we've given them over the years of our children but nothing else. What have any of you done with your parents' things?  Does there come a time when they again become inanimate objects and cease to embody the person?  How long does this take?

7 comments:

  1. Like I said on your last post, my mom and aunt are dealing with this right now. It is hard. My wife and I live the closest and have spent quite a lot of time helping my mom sort through boxes and trunks trying to figure out what to keep and what to get rid of. We have had many fun moments finding things that had been forgotten. Not to mention a number of laughs as we found stashes of plastic bags or large quantities of empty boxes that my grandpa was in the habit of keeping. At the end of the day there was very little that we really felt the need to keep. They're just things and I don't think we need things to keep them alive in our memories. The pictures alone are the only thing worth holding on to. Fortunately there are many albums and boxes of pictures to look through and trace their lives.

    For me, the only things we kept were useful items and they quickly become ours and hold no sentimental value for us. It's different for everyone. My aunt wants to hold on to everything! They have decided to use some of the favorite clothing items to make a patchwork quilt out of. It took quite a bit of convincing to get my aunt to agree to that but in the end she is finally starting to let go a little at a time!

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  2. Thanks Book Nut. The quilt is a great idea. Your aunt is still not your mom though. And you are a guy...

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  3. My husband and I have cleaned out my parents' house and my beloved Aunt Molly's house after their deaths and we were talking just last night about what might happen with our own. I find that we've all ended up with relics of loved ones that are meaningful to us. Some are curious mementos to everyone else: my favorite memento from Aunt Molly's house was this plastic parrot alarm clock she used to play with and would bray with laughter when the alarm would go off, talking like a parrot. Everytime I see it and hold it, I'm reminded of her laugher. My brother and sister and I divided up things from parents and aunt that meant a lot to us personally. We also donated items -- like some of the books -- to local libraries. I gave Aunt Molly's many bolts of material (she liked to sew) to a patient who was setting up a costume business. We also invited my aunt's friends to come pick out some items as remembrances. My brother had a sale of the remainder of our parents' furniture and I did have a garage sale for some little items that no one claimed and ended up selling Aunt Molly's car at the garage sale!

    I find myself with some relics of my parents' and Aunt Molly's past (wrote a blog post about that in June, I think). I enjoy having them, but have no idea what's to become of them after I'm gone.

    Bob and I were discussing that last night. We don't have children. My sister's daughter, who is 21, is not interested in family, let alone family relics. My brother's daughter is only two and will, I expect, spend most of her life in Thailand and closer to her Thai family than ours. We have a young friend whom my husband met in the Big Brothers program and mentored since he was 9 (he is now 28) and I expect he will have more interest than most in our things. We plan to give him first choice, along with my brother and sister.

    You asked about when items cease to embody the person. In some ways, they never do and, in some ways, they're always a reminder. I think you miss a beloved parent or other family member forever. The grief gets less intense with time and maybe you don't cling to memories quite so tenaciously, but you always miss them and the reminders are always meaningful. That said, when you're faced with cleaning out an entire house, it's amazing how objective you can get about some items. It became easy to give clothes away to charities, to sell costume jewelry and perfumes at the garage sale and to sell or donate furniture. We just focused on the task, knowing that our warmest and best memories were not in any specific items, but in our hearts.

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  4. I have a leaded glass bear that was my mother's - she gave it to me years before she died - and photos. She moved from home to assisted living to nursing home, and by the time she died all her remaining possessions were in a storage unit in San Bernardino. We gave it all to the Salvation Army. The memories we have, and the photos, are all we need.

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  5. Kathy, thanks so much for your detailed comment. I read it carefully. The clothing will definitely be the easiest. come to think - mom mentioned in her will she would like her possessions sold and proceeds given to the grandchildren. We are too isolated here to have a garage sale but maybe e-bay? I think people appreciate an item more if they have paid for it, even if it is
    only a nominal amount.

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  6. NB My mom outlived all her friends.

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