July 2012 Newsletter – Gifted Treasures

I recently read an account by Meredith Resnick about the keeping, the gifting, and the giving away of beloved items. She spoke to the items as being not only symbolic, but representing the attachment to a certain time in life. When you look around your house you may find items which represent a particular vacation, a visit to someplace special, a beloved gift, a treasured collection, inherited dishes or art, and other cherished items.

In my book, Please Dance at My Funeral: A Celebration of Life, I speak to a stage when we may part with some things, but want control over releasing our items until we have decided that we are no longer attached to them.

“An example of a well-meaning relative comes from a 90-year-old independent woman who still drives, volunteers, and teaches in her community. Recently, when her relative paid a visit she was left frazzled, saying, ‘She remembered that I mentioned months ago that my garage needed attention; so she cleaned it and emptied the contents as she saw fit. Now I can’t find anything, and I’m not sure I was ready to part with some of the things she threw away!’”

“In 90 years of accumulating what may have looked like clutter to one person, defines another in what may be correspondence, books, collections, heart-held gifts, or travel treasures. Some of the things we accumulate over the years may seem like “stuff,” but it is our stuff. While we are still a viable, functioning, human being, we want a say in the things which are discarded, and those we are not yet willing to part.”

Also, in Chapter 2 on communicating, there is an example of “gifting,” and how we can misunderstand our loved-one’s actions. “My grandmother asked me to come inside when I finished mowing her lawn one day. She wanted me to pick out some dishes or furniture I would like to have after she died. Only in my teens, I was startled, and remember saying, “Oh, Grandma, you’re never going to die!” In one short sentence I dismissed her wishes, denied her the gift of honoring her, and the gifts she intended to give me.“

Meredith comments on her experience with gifting.  “Where there was a part of me that loved receiving things, there was a part of me that couldn’t—or wouldn’t—process that she wasn’t giving these items to me as she used to give me things even a decade earlier—to watch me enjoy them. No. She was gifting because she was ready to unload, to release, to pass things on. To leave the earth.”

Because Meredith was a healthcare provider, she would recognize in others—not her mother—the familiar stages: “Toward the end, she had less of an interest in her environment. Rather, she was more interested in the people, in the sound of their voices, in making eye contact and holding hands.”

Many of us may be less prepared for what is happening when a loved-one becomes unattached to items once held so dear. “I see now, even long before her actual death, she was letting go. As a healthcare professional this made perfect sense, but as a daughter, it was hard to understand and accept that she was in the process of letting go, of, well, dying.”

When we better understand this natural shift of priorities, we can assist with the relocation of items, and express our appreciation for those belongings our loved-one wants us to have. Earlier than later is the time to ask about the history and value of these treasures before we pass up the opportunity to know, first hand, why they held such meaning in our loved-one’s life.