We all know our society is materialistic, and it is widely recognized as a negative. We know we should value experiences over things. We should value people over things. Objects and clothes don’t make the list when we talk about what is most important to us. After all, things are just that- things.
I agree wholeheartedly with all of this, yet I have some powerful emotional attachments to many items in my house. The objects we keep, the objects I have kept, are sometimes akin to treasure. They are the items that passed through people I have loved and lost and made their way to me. In the beginning, I wanted everything. Every object had been “hers,” and if I couldn’t have her here, then I at least wanted her things. They felt like pieces of the puzzle that had shattered. If I collected enough of them, would they make it complete again?
For years I kept everything I could. Her clothes were too big for me, so except for a few warm and cozy sweaters, the rest collected dust in my dingy basement in a box. I would see it when I went down there to do a load of laundry, and I would wonder what was wrong with me that I still kept it. The word hoarder threatened me from the back of my mind, but I kept that box for a long time. Years. At some point, likely necessitated by moving, I donated them, and it was surprisingly fine.
Other things that had belonged to my mom that I still keep to this day. Many of her paintings hang in my house. They surround my family and me as we go about our daily lives, silently and stoically hanging above us as if they are protecting us or bearing witness to the many hours we spend in those rooms. In another room, I have her Matryoshka dolls displayed. Her jewelry is intermixed with my own. I love the comfort of these things surrounding me.
When my brother died, we went through all of his things as well. There was significantly less; I suppose that is to be expected when your life is so much shorter. I chose to keep only a few meaningful t-shirts. He had kept one shirt for almost 10 years, and it has paint on it and a few small holes. It is my absolute favorite because I have so many pictures of him living his life in this shirt.
This time, my other brother kept the boxes of clothes that family members hadn’t claimed. He, too, put them in his basement. When he moved, the boxes moved to my basement. Again, I wondered why I was keeping them. I decided to donate his clothes to a local non-profit that would give them to people still struggling with addiction. It felt right. As I was folding them all up, I found one flannel that I couldn’t bring myself to donate. It is cozy and warm, and it just reminds me of him. I wrap myself in it on difficult days.
I have never liked the term “letting go.” It irks me as much as “moving on.” We don’t let go or move on, but we do move forward in different ways. We are changed. Our grief is personal and unique; there are people I know who don’t hold on to any objects of their loved ones. They find them more in their hearts than in these things. For me, these things are important. They have more value than meets the eye. They are a reminder of what was and parts of who they were. They are more than just objects.
Have you kept certain things from those you have lost? If you are comfortable, I would love to hear about the objects you keep and the people they embody for you. For more on this topic, check out our blog post: The Other Stage of Grief- Searching.