Memories of Loved Ones

I’m writing this as I fly home from my grandfather’s funeral. My grandfather was one of my favorite men: strong, light-hearted (maybe not with poker or golf ;), and a gentleman. He was so proud of his family and lived a full life—living and traveling all over the world. His favorite home was by my grandmother’s side. Grandpa’s body is at Arlington, his heart is forever with us and his soul is in the clouds. I love you Grandpa!

This week provoked a topic that I often get asked about: keeping mementos, especially those of a loved one who is no longer with us. (I live across the country from all of my family and so I use these for living relatives as well.)

There are a few things to keep in mind regarding memories. Things are not memories and they are not the person you are missing. They can, however, help trigger memories of a joyful time. The memory is always within you. This brings up a second point: Make sure items you keep remind you of purely joyful times or aspects of someone. If an item evokes guilt, resentment, sadness (other than from missing the person) or any other negative feelings, maybe it’s not the right thing to keep. Don’t keep it because you think you should or because nobody else wants it... there is somebody out there who will get joy from it.

Another thing to think about is what objects really capture the person’s spirit for you. I’m a fan of keepsakes that can be used regularly or add beauty and joy to your life. The more items you keep, the less special they become so pick a few and really honor them. You want them to play a role in your life, not take it over. And don't let them attract mildew in the attic. Here are a few ideas to keep the memory of a person without adding clutter:

1. Wear a piece of their jewelry or clothing. I use handkerchiefs from my grandfather, aunt and mother. The only watch I own was once my grandfather’s. I have a few clothing items from my grandmother and mother that get rotated into my wardrobe. Make a wearable item of theirs one of your essentials and wear it often... you'll have a lovely, effortless memory.

2. Use a letter or card from them as your bookmark. I’m usually reading or researching a few books at a time and I have three bookmarks—all cards from beloved relatives: my aunt and two grandmothers. I love seeing their handwriting. I love being reminded that they love me. I love being connected to them while I read before bed. (I also like to do crosswords when traveling like my uncle and father.)

3. Decorate with a single item of theirs. Our guests sleep on my grandmother’s sheets and my aunt’s pillow cases. We have very few knick knacks on display, but a few special ones are a giraffe from my grandmother’s condo that I grew up playing with, a small box of my great-grandmother’s that I use as a jewelry box, and my grandfather’s dog tags (he gave them to me almost 20 years ago!) that I keep hanging on my bedroom door. Displaying a vintage photograph is also lovely. (Note to self: find a photograph or two to display!)

4. Take on a hobby of theirs. Learn to knit like grandma, or to cross stitch like an aunt. Read a book series that your uncle loves. I used to listen to Dick Francis audio books on long drives like my grandfather did. When we play cards, we play with a set of my grandfather’s.

5. Add one of their recipes or rituals to your repertoire. If I’m lucky, Greg will make me an Old Fashioned at 5pm on a weekend just like my grandfather would do for my grandmother. At Christmas, Greg also makes his grandmother’s holiday cookies and sometimes my aunt’s chocolate-covered cherries. I’ll make my grandmother’s crab cakes. Even if a recipe takes a long time, it’s the process of making it that serves to remind and strengthen the bond. I can see a beauty ritual being a nice way to connect with a loved one as well.

I hope these ideas can help you choose ways to remember loved ones without feeling cluttered, guilty or stuck. You can honor someone without owning all of their stuff. Try to have a reminder of the past that doesn’t keep you from living in the present and looking forward to the future! I know, for me, my Grandpa would want it that way. <3

+ I loved the beautiful things Anne Sage had to say about her grandmother. “I'll bring with me one of Grandma's most precious gifts: the lesson that while happiness comes from making our homes for ourselves, the truest joy lies in making them for others.” I can certainly relate.