‘Stuff of Life’: Dealing with Loss

Today, Museum Minute gets a bit personal.

This morning my Uncle John passed after a long battle with cancer, just weeks after losing my Aunt Marty unexpectedly.

My dear friend (and Museum BloggerBecca Beck, at the Indiana Historical Society, recently composed a post titled, “Stuff of Life” reflecting on the loss of her grandfather and the difficulty of translating her professional knowledge of dealing with “stuff” to this very personal situation. As I prepare to head home and spend the next several days with my family, I would like to share Becca’s post with you.

Stuff of Life: Bowling Trophies and Gadgets

My grandfather passed away three weeks ago. I’m 31 years old, and this is the first grandparent I’ve lost. I consider myself very lucky.

After the funeral, we gathered at the house to start going through his stuff. The voice behind the stories was gone but the stuff remained. The bowling trophies and golf equipment. The clocks and wind chimes. The crazy as-seen-on-tv gadgets. Pieces of a life well lived.

In the history field, we work with objects from the past all the time. Artifacts are categorized, labeled, assessed and conserved. Decisions about what to keep are based on a collections policy. But I didn’t know how to translate my professional knowledge to this personal situation. It was overwhelming to see all of his things knowing he wasn’t there.

We each handle death and grief in our own way. I chose to remember my grandpa by taking his bowling pin clock, the 1963 newspaper announcing Kennedy had been shot he had shoved in the rafters of the basement and the teddy bear I made for him when I was little. Each triggers memories of him so they remain out of sight for now. That’s how I assigned value to his things – what reminds me of him the most?

So, until I find a great spot for that bowling pin clock, here’s to the memory of my grandfather, Kent Loofbourrow. Rest in peace, gramps.

Becca, thank you for allowing me to share your post. After the loss of my aunt a few weeks ago, this spoke to me. After losing my uncle this morning, I read it again.

To those of you reading this today, tomorrow, or whatever day it may be: Be Good. Be Nice. And hug someone you love today.

6 thoughts on “‘Stuff of Life’: Dealing with Loss

  1. Hi Jamie,
    This really touched me more than you will ever know. My mom passed away this January at the age of 92.

    I will be returning to her home soon to start going through closets, bureaus etc…to determine what to keep, what to give away and what to trash. I am not looking forward to this. I have also thought about how the historian in me will want to keep almost everything and how hard it will be to part with the “stuff”. Having a love of objects and documents just makes all of this so much harder.

    So I just wanted you to know that I feel for you and hope that your travels home will help deal with the loss you are feeling now. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.

    • Conny,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m glad to hear this post touched you. When I read Becca’s post for the first time I cried at my desk. “Stuff of Life” is simple, yet so meaningful. It certainly meant a lot to me. And I agree with you wholeheartedly, having a love of objects and documents certainly makes loss more difficult. Provenance takes on a whole new meaning.

      Thank you for your kind words and prayers. Please know that I am also thinking of you. I too hope that your travels to you mom’s home will you deal with the loss you are feeling now.

      My very best, Jamie

  2. Dear Jamie. I’m so sorry that you’ve lost your aunt and uncle. This was a beautiful way to remember them. With condolences , Gretchen

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Jamie,
    My condolences on your losses. I lost my grandmother, to whom I was very close, almost 3 years ago. I asked my family if I could deliver a eulogy for her at her funeral. The only way I could get through it, I realized, was if I let some of the objects she left behind speak for her. So, as any good museum educator would, I did a “teaching with objects” lesson in the church about my grandmother. My parents were initially skeptical but at the end told me that my grandmother would have been proud. I know she was. I kept her wooden spoon (which I cook with almost every day!), her Italian identity card that she brought here when she immigrated, a costume jewelry necklace she wore every day, and a vase that she told me was her favorite. Let the objects you have serve as a comfort to you.

    Best wishes,

    • Claudia,

      Thank you for your comment – and for sharing your story with me. What a beautiful way to remember your grandmother. And how special it is to use her wooden spoon! My family will begin the process of going through “stuff” today. While I know it will be difficult for all, especially my mom and her sisters, I agree with you, that the “stuff” can and will serve as a comfort during this difficult time.

      My very best, Jamie

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