Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The WHAT? Moment

On death, survivors, and secrets.

Someday most us have to weed through the possessions our parents or other loved ones left behind. In most cases, their stuff will be familiar—the furniture, cars, boats, and other vehicles, perhaps their craft tools, and the objects, photos and art they kept on display. Drawers and closets hold the products people buy, use and keep: clothes, shoes, health care, beauty and cleaning products. Some things bring sweet memories. Others we deem junk and wonder why our loved one kept whatever object we’ve decided is junk. Finally, there is the what-the-hell object.

I remember my mother was going through her mother’s dressing table when she found Grandma’s what-the-hell object. The second drawer down on the left side held a stone—a good-sized stone, too, smooth and round in shape. My grandmother had MS for the seventeen years I knew her. She was tied to a wheelchair. This was in the days before handicap accessibility ramps, which wouldn’t have changed anything for Grandma because she wouldn’t leave her house. She didn’t want anyone, especially the neighbors, to see her disability.

That rock had to have been in her dresser for decades. I know she sat at that dresser every night, so this rock was always close at hand. It must have held an inherent emotional memory for her, but no one living knew what. The rock was returned to the wild, where I guess it belonged. That wasn’t the only WHAT? moment Grandma left her children. They discovered a marriage certificate and not one with my Grandpa’s name on it. She had been married before! Apparently, the marriage was annulled. Surprise!

We all have secrets. Many of us keep objects to cherish the memories they represent. As a pack rack, I tend to keep lots of stuff. I’m at an age that I can see an ending closer than a beginning; understand mortality. I’m sorting through my possessions, trying to get rid of the unwanted and unnecessary, let my kids know their great uncle who died in the Korean War made that table in high school type of information. Will they care? But I’m sure I have many stones, too. It’s amazing how many items have the WHAT? quality to them. If I value something so much, maybe I’d better leave a record of why it was special. How many WHAT? items have you stowed away in closets and drawers? Anyone know why you keep each one? Do you want them to know?