Objects and Memories

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I can’t imagine that there are too many things that give off the same type of vibe as sorting through your parent’s possessions after they are gone. This wasn’t our childhood home since they moved out after they retired but they spent almost 30 years in this place. How strange it felt to basically be tearing down what they built.

Even though Mom has been gone for three years, Dad was never ready to do anything with her things. We did some when we moved him into the retirement village but there were still plenty of her echoes around as we sorted through their things. But while many of the things brought back memories, the house truly felt empty.

They had few specific instructions. So the process was to sort and to go through and see if any item sparked someone to claim it. If not, then the decision was to toss or to give away. A few items we couldn’t decided and set aside for later. One thing we didn’t touch was the photo albums.

We discovered that Dad saved almost everything. Not only that but his mother (our grandmother) saved even more and much of that came to him after she died. So much was tucked into envelopes and stored in various drawers and closets around the house. All had to be reviewed and categorized.

The tough decisions are in what to keep. So many things from early in their lives were interesting in helping to understand them but weren’t a part of our memory set. The cold reality is that most of it would just end up collecting dust after the initial wonder wore off. For example, his high school football letters. I mean we vaguely knew he played football in high school but it was never a topic of conversation. There is no real emotional connection to them and they just become empty objects. Still there is always that bit of guilt of tossing out something that was important to him. Now imagine this cycle being repeated for many, many objects.

The older family photographs were another source of indecision. Again, bits and pieces of their lives before us were interesting to look at but most of the photos had no context. The relatives around them were unnamed. Some we could easily guess. Others were just people. Another bit of cold reality for me is that we have no children so anything I took is going to hit a dead end in a few years. So many of these photos ended up not being saved. More balancing reality with guilt and wanting to hang on to the past.

In going through it, we did all recognize things of him in us. Things we’ve all saved from time to time and now we understand where it came from. Of course, we all made the comment that we are going to go purge some stuff because none of us want anyone to have to go through a similar process. We’ll see if that feeling holds up over time.

And then there are the things we had given them over the years. Some were silly things that were easily discarded. Others were nicer but do you really want something back that you’ve gifted? In the end, we each took a few of those things. Endless family portraits of us that we all had copies of so there was no reason to save. Childhood photos of us that were more memorable to them than to us. I mean does anyone really want to remember what they looked like in fifth grade? I certainly didn’t so tossing those was an easy call.

Not every thing is a keepsake because there are those utilitarian things that all houses need to have to function. Basic kitchenware and appliances and furniture were easy calls although when there was a practical need to save something, it was saved. Same with their clothing but we did find a home for a few things.

I saved a set of bird coasters they must have purchased on our London trip but had been buried under the table linens for the last 30 years since I don’t remember ever seeing them. It seems odd to save something that doesn’t tie directly to a memory but it also didn’t seem right to give them away. In the end, we all ended up with a seemingly random collection of items – some that were bound to past memories and some that weren’t.

We found some older things but determining if they have value was difficult. Some silver pieces that were stashed in a downstairs cabinet and had years of tarnish built up. Could they have been shined to be new again? Probably but they held no real significance to any of us. Perhaps we sent some treasures away for some lucky person to find and reclaim. If so, then that is fine.

This was also the first weekend where I felt like just a tourist in their little beach town. In the past, we had them as the connection. We weren’t there to be like the other tourists. We might enjoy some of the same things but we were here for family which just felt a little more important. Don’t know why.

Their neighbors had us over for dinner on Monday. It was a nice gesture and we know they were good friends. Still felt a little final since, after the service, it is unclear if we’d ever see them again. We certainly might be up again but it would just feel a little strange to drop by.

I’m not sure I want to see what happens to the house. Or maybe more specifically the yard. Mom was proud of the things she planted but the next person may want to go in a different direction. Certainly, we’ve ripped out things that were here when we moved into our house. It happens but I just don’t want to drive by one day and not see the plants she loved.

It is hard to describe how it feels to not have living parents. It is something we all go through so I know I’m not unique in this. I’ve said before that we never had a particularly close relationship and maybe it was just the familiarity but to know that I can never speak to either one of them again can make you feel very alone.

It was a hard couple of days. We all hit walls at various times. Far too many emotions and memories hitting you at once and it was easy to get overloaded. Will be going back tomorrow to finish what needs to be finished and for the service on Thursday. Just had to get some of the jumble of thoughts out of my head which I’ve now accomplished.

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