I’ve had my Daddy’s suede jacket hanging in my closet since 1982, the year he died.
I didn’t know I’d be a keeper, but I guess I am.
It’s brick-red suede, and has completely worn through at the edge of the sleeves. It no longer smells of him, but I keep it.
I remember when I was a child, riding with him to Sears on Saturday morning just to buy salted peanuts and look at the tools in the tool department. He wore that jacket. I was adopted and maybe that makes me more sentimental, I don’t know, but keeping my past is important to me.
I also have his Bible, his wallet, his watch, his glasses, and a yellow shirt I remember him in.
I have lots of items that was my mother’s–her mink coat, her Russian coat, purses, jewelry, a Sunday suit, and more Bibles. (My mother was a preacher, so trust me when I say she had lots of Bibles).
I also have their photos, letters, recipes, Daddy’s old tool chest, the first gift he ever gave her when she was just 14–it’s a small cedar box that’s in the shape of a heart. If my math is right, he gave it to her in 1925. I can tell the story of how they met as if it were my own.
Why do we keep our loved one’s clothes?
Like a child’s ratty blanket, we hold on. Safety, security, identity.
Our momentos are saved in boxes, on shelves, in cabinets, and I know I keep way too much, but how do you let go of such things?
It’s all I have, my way of connecting. I remember Daddy’s bushy eyebrows, the thickness of his fingers and how I could barely squeeze my child fingers through his. I remember that jacket and how he’d wear it when we went to see his family–his sister and brother every Sunday afternoon. His faithfulness amazed me then. His loyalty and tenderness is something I value in a man.
There are issues with keeping things. Psychologists might tell you that you’re not moving on, not making room for the new. I understand the logic. A friend recently visited my home and commented on how much my house had changed in the past couple of years. My mom’s antiques are no longer on display. Some have been give to other family members, others sold. This is a slow process–for me.
It no longer looks like my mother’s house. I moved my mother and her 40 years not moving household items into my house during the last couple years of her life. I tried to talk her into getting rid of a few things but it was hard enough just to get her to consent to come with me.
My house bulged at the seams.
I barely had room for “me.” My mother was one powerful woman. She had a way of taking over. I let her reign, so to speak. As her daughter and in those last few years, caregiver, I learned how to hold my ground and still allow her to feel as if she had some independence.
But now, I have a new couch, a new dining room table. Her furniture has been divvied up among my daughters. I’ve reclaimed my throne, so to speak.
Ironically, I consider myself more of a futurist than a person who lives in the past. I lean toward modern/eclectic design and enjoy new music. I’ve made a slew of six month, one year, five year, and then year plans, always writing my future. I’m a list maker–a list for the day, the week, the month, sometimes two a day. I like feeling like I’ve accomplished something so I’ll write down something down I just thought of so I get the thrill of crossing it out.
But when it comes to my parents, I’m a keeper, but it no longer keeps me in the past. I’m not avoiding “moving on.”
I like to think of their clothes and personal items as a cushion to my life. As if they somehow support me and connect me. Just one look at that jacket and I’m four again. No other Bible comforts me like Daddy’s. I don’t need to even open it to feel a sense of guidance.
It takes time to get to a place to let go of at least a few things.
After your loved one dies, part of grief is when you still try to live in your old life with old clothes and the way things used surrounding you.
You weren’t ready for him to die. You don’t want to date, get a new job, or have to figure out what to do with yourself next Christmas. You don’t want to move on.
Some people get rid of things too soon. Others, too late–it’s different for each person. Finally, you begin to make your own way. Reinvent yourself. Find who you are–now. They are in you, a part of you, but you are changed. You have to go on.
What’s the time frame? Varies. I know people who were clearing out closets before the funeral. I know others who open a closet ten years later–and there’s everything just as it was. Of course, there’s always a chance of getting stuck and not being able to let go. You run that risk.
For many, somewhere around or after that first year mark, things shift–a little. You don’t have to make yourself do everything. Some things come a little easier. A little. For others, it’s two, three years before they can feel anything but blinding loss.
But somewhere along the line, you let go of a few things. You call up a family member and offer them a book or a knick-knack. You sell something, drop items off at Goodwill or another charity. You live with the empty space for awhile before you figure out how to fill your life again. And the items you keep become more intended, more precious. They go in top drawers and the spare dresser in the guest bedroom. You leave out a few photos, a book–a silver comb that sits on your dresser.
Your loved one is now incorporated. Their clothes, their memories are a part of you and they don’t take you or your house over. Grief and memory is no longer like a a giant box you left in the middle of the floor that you trip over again and again.
You still have a few momentos–a jacket, or a Bible.
Anytime you need to, you can slide open a draw and remember.
But now, your closet and your heart is lighter. Airier. There’s room for something new.
~Carol D. O’Dell, Author, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir
www.mothering-mother.comTags: belongings, funerals, money, grief, hope, signs and connections