One of my indoor projects this winter is to go through an old trunk I have and sort out what to throw out and what to leave for my kids when I’m gone. It’s all part of getting my ducks in a row in these remaining years, so others won’t have the burden.
Preparations like this bring me more in touch with my own inevitable death and help me live my present life more fully. But going through all the old possessions has brought up a lot for me.
Questions. Why do we save things? And why do we save certain things and not others? In order to keep that part of our lives alive so we feel more complete? Do we intentionally save things that we think someone else will want? Do we think something is valuable? Or is it all just sentimental? A friend told me keeping and saving things comes from severe toilet training, holding on to things! I’m not sure about this, but what good practice around attachment. Presumption. Why do I presume my family will want certain things? Why do I presume they won’t? By leaving certain things for my kids and grandkids, will they wonder why it is so important or be grateful I left it for them? How do I know? Would my grandchildren be more interested than my own kids? What do I do with my wedding dress? If I give it to my granddaughter, will she feel she has to wear it because it was mine? Confusing thoughts and feelings!Old letters. Love letters from my husband and lectures from my father. Good memories and difficult ones, and everything in between – people, places, experiences. Will my sons want the love letters? Sweet letters from an old aunt show me how much we are/were alike. Her aging body in her 70s and 80s are things I’m going through now. I’m feeling a spirit connection with her.
Baby books, scrapbooks from childhood, special old clothes. Who keeps this stuff? Why would anyone be interested in this old memorabilia? Grade school class photos ... geez.A friend mentioned that he had gone through a family member’s belongings and loved every minute of it. The things he and his family found after the loved one had died really showed him so much more about the person. He said, “Save everything and let your kids decide what they want.” Another friend says, “Throw it all out – they don’t want anything!” So here I am, somewhere in the middle.
This whole trunk ordeal, and I call it an ordeal because it’s daunting, is taking a long time. What I thought would take a couple of hours has turned into a month. I get caught up in something, someone, an old memory, a story, and I feel myself drawn in and a bit buried in the past. It takes a while to switch gears and make dinner. And, I’m dreaming at night about all these memories.
I prefer dwelling in the present and future, instead of the past. We are all culminations of our pasts, our experiences and relationships. They are what make us who we are today. No regrets. But they all seem so long ago and far away. Hopefully, this is one last blast through my history and I can be done with it. Of course, it feels great to clean out, but it might be easier with furniture or linens.
Our history is “composted by years into something generative as wisdom,” says the poet Laura Grace Weldon. I like it.
Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus to the other end of life and has written a book, “The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game.” Reach her at email@example.com.