Saturday, May 17, 2014

Part Four: Deciding what to keep after a parent dies

I decided to drive to my Mom's house for three reasons: I simply felt like I had to make this a journey, especially the leaving. I wanted to put a physical limit on what I would bring home. I wanted to have an open ended timeframe.

I also went with the idea that I would bring home 4 of my Dad's pastels, family photographs, a family marble sculpture and two items my Dad fixed up for my childhood bedroom. We also had a list of things we could potentially use in our home or that might be an upgrade from what we have.

The surprise was that once I really looked at the childhood objects I did not want them. The same with the sculpture which is quite fragile at this point as it was made by a great-grandfather - my brother took it as he lives nearby. The memory of them all was better than the current reality.

I did take the pastels and some framed photographs, but we stored all of the photo albums and some framed photographs that need to be copied as well as genealogical materials. That will all require time on another visit.

What surprised me was what I wanted instead. A vase Mom treasured. Needlework that she, my Grandma, and I had each done. Some jewelry including an antique ring I had never seen that belonged to my maternal grandmother. A fossil I had as a child. A rarely used set of dishes with 12 servings (our old ones will be donated). Binoculars, recipes in a large wooden box. Decorative items to change up our home a bit. A rattan chair I had always liked. Wine glasses as ours seem to be getting broken by guest lately. I'm sure there are other small practical items that I am forgetting to list as I am in the process of putting things away.

As I think about what I wanted to take home it seems they fall into several categories.
- Art and needlework made by loved ones.
- Objects that remind me of a loved ones and that I like as well.
- Useful items that we had been thinking about buying or will use up over time.
- Random decorative items or furnishings that will spruce up our home and we both like.

I am very glad I had thought about what I might want before I arrived at Mom's house and equally glad that I let myself change my mind. I know many people have difficulty going through and letting go of a loved one's belongings. In fact while we were going through the house we heard about someone who has had a portable storage unit full of stuff from their parent's house in their driveway for years. Others were said to have taken three years to get around to clearing out a house. I can't imagine that it gets easier with time. Of course I strongly believe that life is for the living and that we only have now. I also believe memories are more powerful and greater than things but I know many others feel differently.

The size of my car was a good limiting factor and believe me it was packed full for the drive home. The only items I brought home that I am not sure what to do with is some of the needlework as the colors are odd for our home. We are also considering whether or not we can and want to actually hang all of the framed photographs. I am not regretting leaving the items that I thought I would want and happy that I didn't try to add more stuff to our home.

As a friend told me when I said I was starting at unpacked boxes after arriving home - "It can wait. Stuff can't love you back."


  1. I had the same dilemma when my Mother had to leave her home. It turned out that the things I loved and kept were the ones she had also treasured. I had such good memories when I looked at them.

    Oh and your friend is right...material possession do not love you back. Don't put too much stock in their worth!


    1. I think of some of the items I kept as "memory joggers". I have just a couple of things from other relatives and each time I look at them I smile and think of happy times with them. I would have taken nothing though if taking them would have created problems with those that are living.