A recent conversation with a friend, who had the daunting and unenviable task of cleaning out his mom's house after her passing, caused me to consider my own household treasures. We were commiserating about the process of getting rid of our parents' belongings, and what an emotionally draining experience it can be.
I began to think about all of the items that my parents had saved. Of course there were obvious things -- a lock of baby hair, a handmade valentine, maybe even a trinket or two from their own childhood.
But then there were the not-so-obvious items. The utility bills from the 1970s, a yearbook from a school neither of them attended, even Christmas cards that my great-grandmother received in 1952. I wondered, as I tossed these items in the trash, what significance they could have had in my parents' lives. Surely they didn't just keep these things for lack of accessibility to a garbage can. Did they have a deeper meaning? Was there some sentimental value I was not aware of?
These nagging thoughts caused me to evaluate what items I feel need to be saved for all eternity. At first I thought it might be the precious, handmade Mother's Day cards from my children. Or the glorious artwork from preschool. As they got older, the well-written essays and awards. How about the programs from every concert they've ever been in, from elementary school through college?
Then it struck me that one of the things I most treasure from my children, as well as my parents, are those items that are in their own handwriting. It's such a unique and personal expression of who they are. Looking at each carefully printed, and sometimes backward, letter scrawled on a paper or signed in a birthday card, I can picture each of my son's faces as he wrote it. The same holds true of my parents and others close to me.
After my mother died, I remember finding an envelope that she scribbled on the front of. I don't recall the words at all, but I can still see her handwriting, and I can feel her close to me.
As I think about it, I have also saved a note from my husband's grandmother. It was just a little note but I often read it when I'm thinking of her, and it's as if I can hear her speaking. And again, I feel her presence.
When my great-aunt passed away, my cousins gave me a teapot that belonged to her. As much as I love the teapot, what I treasure dearly is the hand-written note that my great-aunt put inside, with the instructions for it to be given to me. I read the note and it warms my heart.
And perhaps my most treasured item is the last birthday card my mother wrote to our son Dennis. His name is written on the envelope and inside it just says "love, Gramma and Grampa." Nothing profound. But just a year after her passing, our son also passed away. Now, as my eyes carefully trace each cursive letter, it's as if they are being etched into my heart.
So I have learned a lesson. I have decided to write in cursive more instead of e-mailing. In an effort to save my children from the headache and heartache of what to do with my junk when I'm gone, I will put all of those things that were important to me and gave me joy into one box. I will leave instructions, handwritten of course, to toss the rest, except for the note on the box.