Grief’s Linking Objects: The Winnowing Process

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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 has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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