Losing Family Heirlooms
I don’t often get too personal here, but it’s been a difficult few weeks.
My maternal grandmother died at the age of 98 the week before COVID became an international emergency. She had lived in Florida for the last ten years of her life and, because she had no nearby family, she had arranged for her belongings to be sorted through by local friends. She left clear, written instructions on what to dispose of and what to send to me.
Unfortunately, the movers to whom I provided instructions–albeit remotely–didn’t listen. Not only did they pack a good deal of things that were to be donated, they also didn’t pack anything–they shoved the beautiful furniture my mother had bought my grandparents into a storage pod without any protection whatsoever. They didn’t take proper care to clean and seal the pod, as I asked (and paid) them to do. So when I finally had the pod delivered to our house, three years and a bit after she died, I opened it to find that just about everything I’d stored for this time was destroyed.
It has been difficult. I’m in the process of filing claims for insurance–because while the furniture had much more sentimental than monetary value, it wasn’t nothing–and, more importantly, I’m in the process of grieving again.
My little one never met my grandma, but she wanted to pass this furniture to her great-grandchild. I had stored it for that reason. I wanted the next generation to have something from her. And while, in theory, the pieces could be cleaned and refinished at some point, it is too much for us to deal with right now. And so we donated them. But we were also left to deal with a number of things she took care to avoid us dealing with–the disposal of miscellaneous belongings that had no meaning to her or to us, such as a microwave, a fridge, etc.–all of which ended up with us anyway. All of which damaged and destroyed that which meant something to her.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow. I had trusted that the care that she took, and that I took, to protect what she wanted to save would be enough, but it wasn’t.
Thankfully, not everything was destroyed. Thankfully, the three things that meant the absolute most to us–a mirror that belonged to my great-grandparents, needlework that my grandmother made, and the letters my grandpa wrote to my grandma during World War II–survived. But it’s so sad that out of a nearly century-long life, that’s all that’s left.
All this to say–this was upsetting. I place so much importance on physical possessions–not for their monetary value but on the meaning they have and carry, the memories they hold. But things don’t last forever. I’m trying to place less importance on the physical and more, conversely, on the ephemeral–on the very individual things that can never, ever be replaced.
How do you handle losing family possessions? How do you get past that sickening feeling of loss when you think about what you no longer have? I’m trying to realize that each belonging in our life is there for a specific time and for a specific purpose. I’m also hopeful that some of the pieces will go to those who will be able to refinish and appreciate them in their life. It’s part of the process. And the things that are unique and personal in their meaning–the mirror, needlework, and letters–are still with us, and still ours. And, at the end of the day, that’s what matters.