Monday, October 10, 2011

The Things We Leave Behind

When was the last time you peeked into your past?

Where are all your treasured mementos:
  • photographs of ancestors, your childhood, your children growing up
  • the scrapbook you created as a high school student filled with movie ticket stubs, a clipping of your best friend’s hair, a love note from your boyfriend
  • the cross-stitch or quilt you started but never found the time to finish
  • the antique dresser or bed handed down to you from great-grandparents that just never fit into your home d├ęcor
My friend shared with me a story about a woman she knows that is overwhelmed by the things that her parents and grandparents left behind when they died. As executor of the estate she is undertaking the task of removing generations of collectibles that fill, from floor to ceiling, the house and several outbuildings on two acres.

For two years I have been begging one of my cousins to “get up in the attic” of her parent’s home because I am told there are movies and photographs that were made during the time my own parents were alive and of all us kids growing up. Her mom and dad refuse to allow it because there’s no way to sift through the mountain of stuff, saying it can be dealt with when they are gone.

My own mother-in-law has filled every one of the bedrooms left behind by her five grown children with a doll collection that spills out into every other room in the house.

Spot the "real" doll
That, too, will have to be dealt with when she passes on; unless of course we want to pay the mortgage to keep them where they are.

I am left with some interesting thoughts about this practice of collecting: One, I completely understand the need to hang on to treasured mementos. I have written about it in Treasures Lost and Found and Touching the Past.

I love revisiting my past by opening a box full of them and reliving the moment in time. On the other hand, I think it is asking a lot of your children or other relatives to have to take on the chore of organizing, storing, or selling the things collected over the course of years and years. I also think it’s sad that a third party, an auctioneer or estate buyer will end up making a profit from the service they provide. Lastly, I think that people like my aunt and uncle are missing an amazing opportunity by ignoring the chance to go through their collectibles; think of the joy it would bring to remember long-ago moments, as well as (and perhaps the most important of all) to share the memories and stories with their kin – lest they be lost forever.

Can clinging to tangible links to our history be a burden or a gift? How are you dealing with the items left behind by your family? How are you preparing for your own passing of treasures?


Sweet Tea said...

My inlaws saved "everything" and their children had to sort and purge all the stuff when they passed. It was a hard, heart-wrenching job...My Mom, who is 82, has gone to great lengths to purge her things so there will not be nearly so much to be done when the time comes. I consider that a gift. She has also asked different family members if there are particular items they would like when she passes and has written names on the back of these items. We prepare for most things, so why not prepare for how we want our things distributed when we are gone. It also helps families not squabble over who gets what.

Good post.

Lisa Gioia-Acres said...

Thanks, Sweet Tea - I thought about that: having to go through the items during the grieving process. Would be so hard to do. Thanks for sharing your idea - it seems to be a caring thing for your mom to do.

miruspeg said...

Another wonderful, interesting post Lisa.....lots of food for thought.

I love my treasured mementos, I don't often go through them, but I know exactly where my photos, trinkets, letters etc are, as I have them in an orderly section in my spare room.

My father unfortunately would not let us help him sort through his vast possessions before he died so it was a very rushed job when we had to move my mother out of the house. My mother on the other hand is giving away her possessions now to her children and grandchildren and seeing the delight in our faces when we receive the gifts.

Hopefully when my time comes I will follow my mothers example.

I feel sad for you that your cousin cannot convince her parents to let you or anyone "get up in the attic" and find the movies and photographs.....what treasures they would be.

Lovely photo of the "real doll"....she looks overwhelmed.

Take care always.
Peggy xxxxx

Just Stuff From a Boomer said...

I wish you r Aunt and Uncle would let you or someone go through those pictures. I, for one, think it's about time.

My mother was a collector. My sister and I both told her if you don't do it now we'll be the ones to do it later. That's what happened.

I have moved so many times in my life that I cannot be a saver of too much. I'm to the point of giving my daughters all the things I can now. Like family photos,school yearbooks, and sets of family china. I would rather see them use it now when it's got a happy memory instead of a sad one.