My Gran passed away on Christmas day, she was two months past her 100th birthday. My boys were very fond of their great grandma but I told them not to be sad as this was not a tragedy, it was more like the end of a good story – something I genuinely believe myself.
One of my Gran’s earliest memories is seeing her family’s horses taken away by the army so they could pull guns in the Great War and yet she lived to see tourists in space. In between she travelled all over the world, served as an army chaufer during the war, sat as a magistrate and gained her degree in English aged seventy eight.
In the course of her long life and travels she and my grandfather acquired many beautiful things, Dutch china, German silver, French mahogany Chinese silk and African Ivory. Shelves of leather bound books, racks of tailor made clothes, a garage filled with lovingly maintained tools. Her memory is in all of it.
But its the other things, the things that nobody wants, that are the hardest to deal with because disposing of them feels like a crime but keeping them is pointless.
While clearing her house last week my grandfather’s meticulously kept parish council records, going back to long before I was born, were consigned to the bin with the old newspapers and the worn out sheets. Wisdom teeth, kept for a lifetime in a small brass box went the way of the stale peanuts and the flat cider. Newspaper cuttings, birthday cards, wedding invitations, illegible letters and MOT certificates.
Buttons, pins, old coins, marbles, matches, cotton reels and tiny keys for God knows what. Perished hot water bottles, musty blankets, and cracked cork bath mats. It all had to go and later that day, as I thought of everything we’d thrown out I realised it was as representative of her long life as anything we’d kept.
What would she have wanted us to do with it? There were instructions for the division of all the nice things, for the sale of the house even for the bulbs she grew outside the back door. But there was nothing to tell us what to do with her reading glasses in their leather case, the biscuit tin on top of the fridge, the cracked soap dish on the bathroom window sill.
I could have boxed it all up, brought it home and squirrelled it away in the corners of the loft, the top shelves of the garage, the cupboard under the stairs. But there’s no point, it would have stayed there until I’m dead at which time my boys would have got rid of it anyway – because that’s the only thing that can be done with it.
We left my gran’s house knowing that the physical possessions that tell the story of her life would never again be in the same place and I just wish she’d told us it would be okay to throw some of it out.
I’ve had a will written for some years now and its pretty simple; my wife gets everything but now I’m adding a line or two for my boys.
1 My spirit will not live on in any of the things that I have owned so keep nothing you don’t want or have a purpose for.
2 Don’t second guess what I would have wanted, when I’m gone it won’t matter. Its what you want that counts now.
3 Just as soon as you’re ready, move on. I don’t want you to miss out on one single damn thing.