At home, with time on our hands, many of us are tackling the job of cleaning out our stuff, a massive decluttering effort. We're finding it a real dilemma to identify the personal memorabilia we would like to preserve, especially if it is from a deceased loved one.
Some people find it easy, like my friend who recounted all the “stuff” he inherited after his mother died. There were photos of friends and relatives he could no longer identify and stacks of cards and letters he had no time to read. He was ready to achieve a sense of closure so he selected a few cards and letters and shredded the rest.
I am too sentimental and a saver as well. I was unable to part with my things so I bought sturdy letter boxes in pretty colors and organized all my cards, letters, and memorabilia by sender, stacking the boxes on a shelf in the guest room closet. Now I am at the point where I am assessing my “stuff” and using the following criteria as a gauge: “Will I be interested in reading or handling this item in ten years?” Remarkably, the answer is often no, so I find myself taking the time to read – and shred.
Some items are too precious to lose. The letters from my husband when he was in the military articulate a part of our personal history as well as that of the times. Tucked in that box was a letter from my mom giving my husband a connection to home as well as a heads up that a chocolate chip banana bread was on the way. And then there are the two envelopes from my mother with each of my daughter's names, containing every single letter my daughters ever wrote to her. I thought that envelop would be easy to clear, but the first one I read shared the news, “We sold the house at 10 am and celebrated with dinner at Pizza Hut.” Send that one to the shredder? I sheepishly admit that that one – and all the others in the pack – made it back to the pretty colored box. My girls will have to decide on those themselves.
I will now confess I saved every letter and card my mother ever wrote to me. I was able to put them in chronological order by the addresses on the envelopes. I took a weekend and re-read every letter and card, going back to college. I considered it a wonderful re-visit with my mom and then I chose a few letters and cards and shredded the rest.
We will all be faced with this dilemma one day. For some it will be easy: just toss it out. For others, not so. It is a challenge to part with the mementos that so vividly bring back the essence of our loved ones.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, available in ebooks for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store.