Monday, August 30, 2010

One Person's Story: Keeping the Memory of Our Loved Ones Alive

deskm with pictures of Aunt Kay

Ellen Joseph is a talented artist, and a friend. She and I were talking about having loved ones pass away, and the things of theirs we choose to hold onto - which inspired Ellen to write this. I thought it was lovely, and she's given me permission to share it.

One of the greatest challenges we all face is the loss of a family member or close friend. After the initial stage of grief, there is the question of how to include a departed loved one in our daily lives. Cultures around the world have set up customs and rituals around the honoring and remembrance of those who've gone on, but we can create our own memorials to those who figure prominently in our hearts.

The loss of my godmother nearly 2 years ago was extremely upsetting, even though I was well prepared by her years of illness. The finality of death is an emotional shock that overrides intellectual understanding. I experienced a great spiritual closeness with Aunt Kay immediately following her death and in the subsequent months.

As time passed, the pain diminished, and I am left with many wonderful memories and cherished gifts she gave me. In order to include her in my daily life, I have several photos placed at eye-level at my desk so that I can feel her love beaming at me through her smile.

She;f with items from Aunt Kay

Also in my office, I've dedicated the top shelf of my bookcase to Aunt Kay. There is my favorite Beloved Tales book she gave me when I was a child, her As Time Goes By series of DVDs that we used to discuss in the years before her death, and her book about her favorite actress, Judi Dench. There are photos and cards I had sent to her that were returned to me, as well as a photo book I created of her memorial service on St. Patrick's Day.

dishes, fine china - Blue Onion pattern

Prior to her death she asked me what I would like of hers and I told her I would love her set of Blue Onion dishes that meant so much to her. A large portion of the set was broken in the Northridge earthquake, but she left me what remained. Since I am an avid collector of antique china, her dishes represent the bond of a shared appreciation. I like to "start the day with Aunt Kay," serving breakfast on them when I want to remember her love. Also, when my sisters come over, we have family meals on them and always talk about Aunt Kay.

All these daily reminders help me feel that Aunt Kay is never far away.


Anonymous said...

What a great way to remember a loved one! I found this so inspiring and heartwarming. Thank you for sharing!

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Ellen has written a very fine tribute to her godmother. She's also provided an excellent example of how a few treasured mementos can represent the significance of a relationship. Too often, in our grief, we want to cling to every item our loved one owned. I also like the fact that Ellen uses the dishes regularly rather than having them enshrined, untouched. ~ Thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

beautiful way to honor a loved one.
Lorese Harper
Neat Nest

Anonymous said...

Re using the dishes, those of us who were in the Northridge quake all learned not to overvalue "things," especially ones that break. Since 1994, my husband and I (plus everyone we know) have used cherished family items in our daily lives. One thing I heard repeated over and over in 1994 was, "I wish I had used it when I had it." Some good lesson always comes out of bad, doesn't it? ;-}

Pauline Wiles said...

Using the dishes is a lovely way to remember. And Judy's more general point, about not being afraid to use special things, is so important, too.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

@Judy: I live in LA and experienced the Northridge quake, too! It certainly provided a lot of perspective about stuff in general.

Jeri Dansky said...

This is a just a quick "thank you" to all of you for your thoughtful comments; they mean a lot to me, and to Ellen.

Janet Barclay said...

Cynthia said, "Too often, in our grief, we want to cling to every item our loved one owned." I can so relate to that. Not only have I had clients with bulky possessions that were treasured by their late parents, I had a similar experience when my own mother passed away. My feeling was that if she had kept it all these years, it should be kept. I did manage to weed out the collection, but even after nearly 15 years, I'm still struggling to let go of a few that don't hold special memories for me.

Lauren Silveira said...

What an inspiring post. I have many photos of my late grandmother tucked away and made a decision after reading your post to frame a few and put on my desk in my office. Thanks so much for sharing these ideas!

Jeri Dansky said...

Lauren, both Ellen and I are so glad to hear that this post inspired you!

Judoo said...

Because she had moved a couple times and to small apartments before she died, my mom didn't have that much, and she always was kind of a minimalist. And I'm happy to say my siblings and I did not quibble about one thing. I love having some things of my mom, no matter how humble. I've tried really hard to incorporate some of them into daily use or decor so that they don't add to my clutter. Anything that could be used as a container, helped me out, or at least didn't take up any room. I replaced my ironing board with hers, even though mine was a little newer. On the rare times I iron, lol, I feel closer to my mom. A couple things of hers were duplicates of what I had, and it enabled me to have a scissors handy in several rooms, for instance. I put an unattractive blanket of hers in a duvet that I already had. Improved the looks and will keep the blanket in better shape. I put it in a guest room that did need a blanket. I'm going to paint the outside of a ceramic lamp that she had and use it. Speaking of paint, there are so many things you can make look new, just by painting.
For someone who has a LOT of stuff to deal with, take digital pictures of the stuff you decide to get rid of. Maybe you'll never look at the pictures, but it can help you get ride of things. Off topic, I think everyone should take pictures of their possessions, not only for insurance, but in case of loss, seeing a picture of a treasured item, would be better than fading memories. Love your blog.

Jeri Dansky said...

Judoo, thanks for commenting! I love that you're using your mom's ironing board, and the other ways you've incorporated items of hers into your space.

And I totally agree with you about the photos. (And then make sure you've got backups of those digital photos!)