Sunday, 27 August 2017

Throwing Out Your Loved Ones’ Stuff: A Letter to CBC The Current

A letter in response to an article I caught the last few minutes of the other day:

Friday August 25, 2017

How unwanted family heirlooms create a divide with aging parents

Dear Current,

I am one of those apparently clinging oldsters—not so old, actually, but one who places value on belongings kept over many years. Not economic value. I have not owned anything worth a dime nor have my friends, by and large, who have died and whose homes I have helped to dismantle.

Stuff costs money to house. Along with dumping our inherited belongings before we have had the chance to really understand what we are ditching, we fill up every inch of our increasingly tiny homes with random things that, often, we would throw away first if only we had the mental space to sort it through.

I have lived for over thirty years in the same room. Compared to most people I don’t have much stuff. But I certainly have enough. My furniture is carefully acquired antiques, none worth much except in the warmth their soft woody lights brings to my eye. I have books, mostly old, beautiful to me for their age and content, again, few worth much in dollars. I have petalware plates and bowls lifted from the trunk of a friend who had just died, a neighbor I had cared for increasingly over many years until I was his main support. I have knickknacks, including an Olde Englande teaset that is cracked and glued together. These I inherited when my Northern Irish friend died, suddenly and distressingly. I have, too, her granny’s potato masher, worthless to her brothers, and some pieces of Tyrone crystal that she adored, as do I, but her executor couldn’t move them at the yard sale. I have souvenirs of my family—Dad’s old sweater and cap, Mum’s last oil painting, gifts from nieces and nephews, some from siblings, too. Meaningless to anyone but me.

When I have a friend facing death, I do everything I can, if I am able, to support them and connect with them in their present life. And when they have died, if I am able, I sit in their room or rooms, see what they saw, touch their obscure and well familiar belongings, reinforcing what I knew of them, learning something more. If I can take some memento home then I bring a piece of that friend with me. Every time I see it, year in and out, I see that friend.

When I die, no one is likely to want many of my things. We all already have too much stuff. But this saddens me. I have spent a lifetime making as gentle a home as possible; I would like to contribute that gentleness to the people I love. I would like them to pass the old wardrobe and not just think, that damn door is always drifting open, but, Auntie Casey is saying hi to me.

In many ways, I have felt incompletely understood by people. I have this odd sense that if they took the time to be with my things, as they might not have thought to be with me (that is, still and receptive, rather than chatty as we usually are—as much my doing as anyone's), they might know me better after death than before it. Or, perhaps, as I have done with my friends, invent new versions of me to carry with them. Even that is a communication. A continuation.

Some of us toss out everything but the “best” stuff from our parent’s homes when they have died or are going into care, and later keenly wish we had not let everything go. We are so into being practical that we forget that we are something more than that, too. I regret throwing my dear friend’s letters away because there were so many of them. He is long dead and I can never have those conversations again. Would it really have been so hard to keep them?

Sure, there is a time to let stuff go, even beloved stuff. But it should not be rushed, if there is any other option. Besides everything else, that stuff can open the doors of our hearts, and help us heallong after our loved ones have turned to dust.

So, divest away, oh modern practical people. But do not throw out the deep connections that are possible through the loving acceptance of a well meant gift. One that will be there long after your loved one is gone. Think long and hard before you pitch. You can always toss it at another time. But you can never bring it back.

Image: Parents see heirlooms. Their kids see junk to clean up. It's a keepsake dilemma for families. (

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

“what wolf cubs need” by Casey June Wolf (poem)

what wolf cubs need

brown and curled and wet with mother's dew
each cub slides into this world
cleaned   tongued   nuzzled
until the mewling starts
until the new wolf waves her helpless nailed paws
into the air
against her mother's cheek
until the sealed eyes and questing mouth
find their way to her white-filled source

every cub needs her mother
her brothers and sisters, too
to lean against in slumber
tumble over
tweak in play
to run with
growing smart   gleeful   strong
each cub needs her father
warm against the night
gambolling when mother's gone to hunt
stretched out calm and watchful
running quick and eager
barking against those who'd pull her down

those cubs who have them are the lucky ones
cubs with "aunts" and "uncles"
who wrestle long with them
who sleep with   eat with
bring treats to them
you are my uncle wolf
caring when you need not care
bringing me the long red leg of a fallen deer
to chew   and fight   and chew
you are my brother wolf
wrestling   playing
barely conscious of the cougar on the hill
you are my comrade wolf
and i walk with you contented
safe as i can be
on this long expanse
of snow

Copyright: Casey June Wolf. 3 June 1993.
Image: Timber Wolf Cub - Colchester Zoo, Colchester, Essex, England - Saturday July 21st 2008. By Keven LawThis file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Genericlicense.