Give, while you’re around to see your family enjoy your treasures.
We have just been through 10 weeks of sorting out about 75 years of living for a family member. We thought it was an easy task but it turned out to be much more convoluted and difficult than we had imagined. After all, there was so much history and so much to sort through.
My aunt, at 93, was at the stage of needing some full-time supervision and someone to check on her daily. So the task was to relocate her to another building where she could get all the needed attention and have a better social life with people of her own age group. Our first job was to move her and settle her in the new venue before the onset of fall. That was the easy part: selecting the furniture that fit the new space and settling her into a new environment.
The difficult part came right after that, for there was over 75 years of collections to sort through and disperse. There were so many file boxes of papers and photographs; they all needed to be sifted through and decisions made about the materials they included
One of the most difficult parts were the thousands of photographs my mother had taken. She was never without a camera in hand over the years and had filled box after box with photos. Other than immediate family members, we had no idea of who some of the subjects were as no identification appeared on the photos and no notes were kept. We decided simply to start envelopes of different family members and friends and disperse them. There was also memorabilia galore in the form of press clippings, programs and other photos, all of which needed to be sorted out.
Making decisions about other people’s collectibles is not easy and becomes more difficult as you come to realize that much of it belongs to a past of which you were not a part.
This triggered a determination in all of us to begin to sort out our lives for the sake of our children and grandchildren. As we were purging the apartment, we began to feel the burden of all these collectibles and to simultaneously start to purge our own homes, sorting out what was important to us and trying to determine how it would affect the next generation. Fortunately some members of that next generation stepped up to help us with the work and take away things that they were interested in.
There was such a vast number of things that no single family could possibly absorb it all. We asked all the family to come and tell us what they liked or wanted, and we gave it to them.
There is much to be said for giving things to the next generation when you can see them use them and enjoy them, My mother in her lifetime began after we were married to reward us with wedding gifts that she had received and was no longer using, She said it gave her pleasure to see us using these treasures, especially because she was no longer using them. We value these gifts, and in the process learned a good lesson to give while you can see it being enjoyed.
Our nephew’s taste is rooted in antiques and good things and he has received a lion’s share of the bounty so far and will do so in the future. The next generation’s taste is more modern and simple, but that happens to be the life they are leading now, with small children and busy lifestyles. Things may change as time goes by, as it did for all of us.
Where once my wife and I would not consider anything more formal to serve guests than meat loaf and macaroni, we learned to entertain in an elegant style. Fine things like china, crystal and silver replaced the crockery and stainless we had used daily. Dinner parties or celebrations now occupied more of our lives and the things we had inherited became an integral part of the experience.
Another thing both our mothers did was to specify which of their personal things went to various family members and friends. They did this when they were well, and they made prudent decisions. They both sorted out their lives before they left this world.
Barbra and I have pledged to one another to sort out as much as we can for our children: to make decisions on material things for them and decisions about arranging our own lives as we age. We both want a say in sorting out the end of our lives and what shall take place for us at that juncture. Nothing should be left unexplored or unsorted. The best job we can do for our children is see they’re not left in the dark as to our wishes. I am exhorting all my friends to do the same.
And we want as well to know that some of our treasures will be valued and used with the same joy that they brought us.
Jim Pappas is on the CJNU governing board.