Grieving the Loss of “Things”

Thursday (Feb. 3) will mark the eighth anniversary of the fire that destroyed my partner Jim’s pole barn. More than 70 percent of his possessions were lost, as well as a number of things I stored in there, too.

Many of us were taught that “things” don’t (or shouldn’t) matter, especially more than life, so grieving the loss of our things can feel selfish. But most of us don’t lead monastic lives, and our things are often reminders of memories and people we hold close in our hearts.

When you walked into Jim’s barn, you walked into his mind, his past, his dreams, and his craft. What burned was a wooden structure Jim built himself, and inside—among hundreds of other things—was the bow tie Jim’s mom gave him when he was a young boy, his favorite dog’s ashes, his grandmother’s dining table and chairs, his grandfather’s .22 pistol, his Harley, and a vintage poster for the Sinnamahoning Rattlesnake Bagging competition.

Gone, too, is the bicycle that helped me overcome years of negative self-talk. Biking started out as a fun outdoor exercise after losing a substantial amount of weight, but it turned into an emotional connection that I liken to a friendship and, at times, therapy. Biking took me to “thin spaces” where the secular meets the sacred, places I would never have seen on foot or in my car. Yes, I can replace a bike, and I did, but I could never replace that bike.

It’s OK and necessary to grieve the loss of special things: the cookie molds you inherited from your great aunt because she cherished the Sundays when you’d go over to her house and make cookies with her; the cast iron pan your great-grandfather used to fry the walleye he caught in Lake Erie when the family camped on the weekends; the Number Thirty Hamilton Beach malt mixer you bid on and won at your first country auction; the monogrammed apron your husband bought you when you “graduated” from that six-week Asian cooking class.

It is also my hope that when we witness the suffering of those who have lost their things that we reflect on and appreciate our own things, and offer thanks for that which we still have the good fortune to touch, look at, and use. Is Grandma’s green depression-era measuring cup tucked away somewhere in a buffet collecting cobwebs? Get it out! Use it the next time you’re measuring broth for soup or flour for cookies. Do you save the “good dishes” for special occasions? Use them the next time you serve sloppy Joes! Dirty the fancy linens. They’ll wash up.

Grief finds all of us one way or another, and we should all feel free to feel the feels of it, whether we’ve lost a loved one, pet, an irreplaceable photo or… a bike.

My bike and me, 2008

5 thoughts on “Grieving the Loss of “Things”

    1. Elisabeth, that’s wonderful! Even just sipping from a coffee cup would be fun. On Antiques Roadshow last night, a guy had brought in a book that they valued at $15k and the guy said, Well I guess I can’t keep it on the bookshelf anymore, and the appraiser said, No you shouldn’t. Seriously??? What good is a book in a safe? Keep out and use the things you love, I say 🙂

  1. This is lovely post, so resonant. I’m also reminded of the folks in Colorado who recently lost their homes, and how so often what hurts the most is the photo albums. Objects sometimes become talismans for who we are, or have been or wish to be.

    1. Talismans…a beautiful descriptor, and so true. I read an article recently on NPR’s website about the families in Colorado. Absolutely heartbreaking.

  2. You’re right. Our things are our memories. I would morn the loss of the things my sons made me when I was young, the photos of family, the pictures my grandchild drew. I would morn the connection to things around my home that were collected over the years or given to me because they hold memories, not because of any value they have.

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