On Labor Day, I spent the afternoon going through memory boxes in my father’s basement. Six white cardboard containers with my name written in Sharpie. As I opened each one, the locks to hidden boxes in my head unhinged as well.

I was surprised at the hollow pull when I found remnants of my mother’s delicate cursive on the backs of watercolor pastels and frayed grammar books where she’d written my name and the date. The permanence and the impermanence of ink on paper. Her presence in the midst of her absence. Her whisper in the sweep of an “S” that I still emulate, even though I now print all my letters, having refused to continue in cursive despite being taught this exclusively until the fifth grade.

My father writes in all capital block print. I have fallen somewhere in-between the two of them, as I always have. But I traced the long fluid lines at the corner of my artwork as though they might connect me back to her. Back to the non-decision to shun my mother’s cursive but keep her capital “S”. The way I still begin and end with loving her fiercely and simultaneously moving away from her. The boxes are evidence of this, of my growing up and becoming my own person. Separate.

I began by making piles, attempting to sort things that should be kept from things that should be released. But the pile of things to keep kept growing. How do you put your childhood in a waste bin? How do you throw away all those cursive S’s your mother so lovingly scribbled in corner of your memories?

My nine-year-old son wandered down just as I was beginning to remove things from the second memory box. Without prompting, he sat down next to me and began poring over my early schoolwork. Within minutes, the questions began. What is this a picture of? How old were you when you made those? When did you learn how to write like this?

Soon, we were unpacking my girlhood along with old handwork projects and crayon portraits of cats and fairies and other mystical creatures. When the eleven-year-old joined us, I had an epiphany: I have witnesses! And that was all it took to start letting it go.

I needed someone else to have held those books, lain eyes on the vestiges of my earliest years. I needed to share it, and then – we put it on the pile. The “let it go” pile. I let all those cursive S’s become a tower of things I no longer need to hold onto. My children lovingly held the pages of my elementary school years, they marveled over the art I developed during high school.

We bonded over the same misspelled words and affinity for drawing maps. We lingered over theater scripts and really poorly written adolescent poetry. They were gentle with my childhood, just as my mother had been.

By the time they tired of revisiting a world before their own, we’d taken six boxes and consolidated them into one. One box of memories, mostly consisting of things I’d written – a screenplay, a children’s book, my very first poem; the piece of fiction I’d started in seventh grade, evidence of the moment I’d fallen in love with crafting words into magic.

Later, my husband helped me pull staples out of spines, collating paper into piles of thick watercolor, kindergarten matt, and lined notepad. We filled the recycling bin with everything my parents had saved since I’d started primary school.

I only cried once. The rest of the afternoon was marked by breaths. The inhale as I remembered the soft morning light in the classroom where I learned to multiply, the smell of beeswax crayons, the laughter of the afternoon schoolyard as I waited for my mother to pick me up. The exhale as I put the drawings in the bin and the memories back in their boxes inside my head.

I breathed through each piece of cursive writing, both my mother’s and my own, as it passed through my fingertips. I smiled and inhaled deeply when I came across a letter from my best friend. Exhaled when I put it in the box of things to save.

Read more from Sara Striefel on Open to Hope: Through the Holidays, Grief Just Is – Open to Hope