Grief’s Linking Objects: The Winnowing Process


Linking objects–things that belonged to a deceased loved one–are reminders of experiences and feelings. A bereaved son may wear his father’s watch, for example, and a bereaved daughter may use her mother’s dishes. At holiday time I put mother’s cut glass water decanter on the dinner table,  a reminder of her love, guidance, and all the wonderful meals she made.

Objects like these are sources of comfort. Kayla Waldschmidt details the values of linking objects in her article, “Memory Tokens and Linking Objects,” posted on the Grief Resource Center website. She thinks linking objects are powerful “items that keep you connected to your loved one.” This connection can last for months or years.

Grief counselor J. Worth Kilcrease, MBA, MA, LPC, FT, tells how this “stuff” has special meaning in an article titled “Linking Objects,” posted on a personal website. After a loved one dies, “everything that was important to the deceased becomes important to us simply because it was important to the deceased!” Kilcrease writes. But problems can arise when we accumulate too many linking objects and they take up too much space. “Keep it as long as you need to,” Kilcrease advises.

Right now, if you’re in the early stages of grief, you aren’t thinking much about linking objects. Instead, you’re just trying to make it through the day. Later in the grief process, your awareness of these objects, and the comfort they provide, may increase. I have my mother-in-law’s bread knife, which belonged to her grandmother, who came from England. The knife links me to her and the generations that preceded her. Although it isn’t a very good knife, it’s a very good linking object.

You may use several linking objects at once, dishes and flatware, or tools and a workbench. Eventually, the day comes when you realize you don’t need all of these objects, and need to winnow them. This is a process, and it happens in stages. For years, I kept my deceased daughter’s purse in the closet until, quite suddenly, I realized I didn’t need it any more. So I cleaned out the purse and discarded it.

Creating linking objects is also an option for the bereaved. I belong to an historic Study Club, one that has been functioning for more than 135 years. When a member dies we contact the public library and submit a list of the deceased member’s interests: cooking, travel, history, etc. The librarian sends us a list of appropriate books and prices. We discuss each book and chooses one that represents the member best. Our donated books serve as linking objects and help an organization we care about.

Now may be the time to sort through your loved one’s things. Make two piles, one to keep, and one to donate. Select objects that are the most meaningful. Remember, the smallest object, a shell, a key, a ring, can have profound meaning. The best linking object, if it can be called that, is the love you feel for the departed. Wherever you go, whatever you do, this love is always with you.

Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson, BS, MA has been an independent journalist for more than 35+ years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the MN Coalition for Death Education and Support. Hodgson writes for and has earned top status. A prolific author, she is the author of hundreds of articles and 31 books. All of her writing comes from experience and heer recent books focus on grief recovery: * Happy Again! Your New and Meaningful Life After Loss * The Spiritual Woman: Quotes to Refresh and Sustain Your Soul * 101 Affirmations to Ease Your Grief Journey: Words of Comfort, Words of Hope * Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life * Writing to Recover Journal (with 100 writing prompts) * Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, Lois Krahn, MD, co-author In 2007, after her daughter's death and former son-in-law's death, she became a GRG, grandparent raising grandchildren. Her latest book, Help! I'm Raising My Grandkids: Grandparents Adapting to Life's Surprise, came from this experience. In addition to writing books, Hodgson is a columnist for "Caregiving in America" magazine and Assistant Editor of ADEC Connects, the electronic newsletter of the Association for Death Education and Counseling. A popular speaker, Hodgson has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer's, hospice, and grief conferences. She has appeared on more than 160 talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations/programs, including CNN. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors and other directories. She lives in Rochester, MN with her husband and twin grandchildren. Please visit for more information about this busy author and grandmother. Books by Harriet Hodgson The Spiritual Woman: Quotes to Refresh and Sustain Your Soul, available from Centering Corporation, and Amazon, 101 Affirmations to Ease Your Grief Journey: Words of Comfort, Words of Hope, available from Amazon, Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life, available from Centering Corporation, and Amazon, Writing to Recover Journal, available from Centering Corporation, and Amazon. Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, Lois Krahn, MD, Co-Author, available from Amazon,

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