About the Stuff

About a week after my mother-in-law died, I went by her house to borrow her seive.  Every year, my daughter and I borrow grandma’s seive to make applesauce.  Then we take some applesauce back to her.  I was hoping the seive was still there.  I knew my mother-in-law was gone, but I wanted to find the seive.  Maybe it was still in the house.  Or maybe one of the children had taken it home in their efficient whisking away of loose belongings.

But the house was shuttered and locked.  So instead, I sat in the car and had my first big cry.  Every time I thought of that seive, and all the family memories attached to the making of fall applesauce, I cried a little more.  I don’t need to keep the seive.  I just want to touch it.

I remember one of my first interviews with a woman who, after three years, was still unable to resolve her grief about her church closing.  “They’ve locked the church and I don’t know what they did with all the stuff,” she said to me plaintively.  The “stuff” she was referring to was all those holy objects she had attached meaning and memories to over many years as a church member: the chalice and patin, the baptismal font and cross, the china set used for stewardship dinners and the faded illustrations hanging on the Sunday School walls.  Her unresolved grief was so great she couldn’t drive through her own hometown any more, because she had to pass the empty church building.

As it turns out, the stuff matters.  We don’t want it to matter; after all, it’s only “stuff”.  But it matters.  The holy objects are vessels of meaning.

“They have taken away my Lord,” Mary said to the angels, in tears, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” (John 20:13)  She knew Jesus was dead.  But she still needed something to touch, to remember him by.

Whatever you do, if you’re closing a church or a household or ending the ministry of the Women’s Guild or completing any beautiful human effort, don’t just whisk away the stuff.  Lay it all out and let people touch it, lift it up and tell stories about it.  Let everyone take a little piece of the past home with them.

The things we can touch do matter.  That’s why Jesus came with a body.

7 responses to “About the Stuff

  1. There’s nothing like the corporeal life. All sacred. Thanks for this very dear meditation.

  2. Wow! This is profound, Gail. I am a fairly non-sentimental soul. I’ll bet I’ve inadvertently, in a desire to be tidy or forward-thinking, gotten rid of many a thing that had meaning for someone. I will be more careful now. Thank you!

  3. The good news is that the seive was there and we did make applesauce on Sunday. Only sorry that Grandma could not enjoy it with us this year…

  4. While I generally agree, however, living with a pack rat we can through nothing out. And at some point it is an albatross, or a lot of albatrosses. It is a fine line between honoring the past, but moving on as well.

  5. True! I should have added that, after you admire the old stuff, it’s time to let it go and move on! Thanks for making that point, Kathy!

  6. I can totally relate to this. Recently we helped my mom move from her house into a 1 room senior living apartment. The house sold fast and we only had about 2-3 weeks to empty the house. As we help up each item and asked, “What do you want to do with this, mom?” she would begin with a story. Unfortunately, all of us being from out of state, would hurry past the story to “But what do you want to do with it.” Things disappeared fast…to Goodwill, to sons/daughters, to grandkids, to junk. All the things that had meaning and memories attached to them…her handwork, sewing, quilting, pictures, jewelry, favorite pitcher, teacups, her painting, music, placemats, special cards from the grandkids, etc. Now, 6 months later she asks, “Where is my…..?” or “What happened to my ….?” The “stuff” of her life and her stories have been dispersed. What happens to a persons soul when this occurs?

  7. I don’t know what effect it has to lose the stuff of our lives. For me, it’s freeing to let go of some things. But for the old, there is so much loss, tangible and intangible. The stories are hers to keep. Maybe if someone asks her to tell the stories, even if she has to tell them over and over, her soul won’t languish as much.

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