Sitting Shiva… Stained Ties and a Big Pile of “Keep”

Boxes, old pictures and ties from another generation fill my vision as I start cleaning dad’s house.

My mom did many things for my dad. She covered over a lot of his flaws… she cooked three meals a day… and she cleaned really well. Without her, flaws were apparent… microwave dinners became his cuisine… and dust accumulated into a protective layer that covered everything. It is into this sea of dust that I find myself swimming today. Doing what I have always dreaded… separating all of my dad’s things into three distinctive piles… 

Throw Away. 



A pile of stained ties and checkbook registrars from 1983 pepper the “throw away” pile. My dad was from a generation that kept things “just in case”. So, file upon file of papers must enter this pile. Some will be shredded. Some will just move from their heap in a drawer to their final resting place at the bottom of a trash compactor. But, there are some things that “may” be used by another person that I have no desire to have. These things move into the “sell” pile…

Furniture that is so heavy that it makes you want to cuss when you move it. Furniture made before particle board was chic… or prevalent. Knick knacks and drapes and pictures of things that have no meaning to me… they are piled together in preparation for their new homes… to be spread out throughout a community who will buy them at pennies to the dollar. These are all things that enter this ever growing pile.

But… there are other things that will mean nothing to anyone but me… and those things enter a pile to “keep”. 

My shoes that I wore before I could walk that are worn down on the tops from crawling instead of the bottoms. The picture of an old man praying before his meal which has followed my dad to every place he has ever lived and encapsulated his soul and depth of spirituality. The holiday dishes that have sat in the back of his closet for years that were never used because my dad didn’t want anything to happen to them. They have sat wrapped each Christmas for their safety. However, dishes weren’t meant to stay hidden, but to be used… just like us. We are not called to simply hide in our homes and be safe, but to live life and breathe deep and venture from our boxes on to the dining room table. And… in doing that… they may get damaged… and so may we. There may be chips in the plates from wear and tear and there may be cracks in our lives from use. But, we are meant to be used and active and it is a chance that we must take.

This year, those dishes will be on my dining room table.

I found a small book that I had given him for father’s day many years ago that I wrote in. I flipped open and there was a message written under my note to him. It was something that he had written to me. It had sat in his house unread until this moment. It was written many years ago for this moment. A message that transcended the grave. 

That book will sit on my shelf. 

I found pictures that are over half a century old buried in a box of junk. Picture after picture of my mom when she was a small child. Faded photos of another generation of the people who helped nurture the ones who brought me life. I had never seen them before. Jumbled and scattered at the bottom of a box they sat there waiting for me.

Those photos will be displayed for the world to see. 

Those things that really matter. Those things that are really important. Those things can’t be replaced with a dollar sign. They are in the “keep” pile.

I am not excited about a piece of technology that can be replaced at any WalMart or some car that will only rust and die. I am enamored by those possessions that hold a memory… those “things” that carry a thought… that property which has a story that I can use to carry the legacy of my family into the future generations. These are the things that mean the most to me.

As I look around my home today I ask myself a tough question. “Am I living my days to accumulate stuff that doesn’t really matter in the whole scheme of life? Am I getting goods when I should be cultivating memories? Am I providing my family with those things that rust and time can not destroy?”

I hope I am. 

Because I know that there will come a day when I will breathe my last breath and I want to know that they will be able to look at each other and smile… remembering things that we did together or time that we shared. I want them recounting the moments of laughter and joy instead of the pennies that are left in the bank.

I will continue to go through clothes that should have been discarded a generation ago and probably find that 1993 tax information that dad kept so safe. I will wipe down walls and sneeze from the dust. I will fill vaccum bags full and empty out closets. And… with each item I touch… I will make a decision.

What will I trash? What will I sell? What will I keep?

I already know what is making it into the “keep” pile. Are you building a life that will assure that this “keep” pile will be the largest when you are gone? I hope you take a moment to consider this and how you are living… it makes all the difference in the world.

Thanks for Sitting Shiva with me!


One thought on “Sitting Shiva… Stained Ties and a Big Pile of “Keep”

  1. This is such a bittersweet task we must do when we lose our parents. But it is also an opportunity to learn who they were. Not just the carefully cultivated image we show to others (here I refer to the Johari window – see but also the private person we tend to hide from others. Often the biggest surprise in our life is learning that someone we love was “protecting” us from some bit of knowledge (like the time I got arrested when I was a senior) only to find out we knew that all along.

    But as we age we are much better equipped to deal with these often embarrassing truths about our parents – and in the process learn that neither we nor they are perfect or infallible. Some things about our parents we don’t want to know, some things we don’t need to know, but there are some things we should know. I suspect these may include some of your dad’s feelings from his service in Vietnam that he may have only shared with your mom – or perhaps his friends who also shared that experience.

    Perhaps he had doubts about his ability to provide for his family, his faith, his self worth. These are all things that are common to the human experience and are lessons more easily learned through sharing with our parents than by direct experience. That is why we, as parents, seek to educate and protect our children from the hard knocks of the world. Your father was no exception.

    As you sort through his material possessions look for and savor the mementos of his life-lessons to you and your children. These are truly nuggets of gold to cherish for all time.

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