Friday, September 16, 2016

Passed and Present by Allison Gilbert

I don't know about yours, but my mother saved everything. As did her mother. Both my parents and their parents are now deceased and I have inherited all the papers and photos, greeting cards and letters, books, china and silver, jewelry, scrapbooks, family recipes (and I am not a cook!), personal documents, and a plethora of other mementos.

When Mom died in 2009, in my grief I tried as best I could to sort and cull what was left behind. Although some of the items found their way to my brother's house, many of the objects ended up just being closed up in boxes. They continue to sit in a closet waiting for me to revisit them. 

The task of looking through them again, knowing the decisions that have to be made, seems overwhelming still. What to keep? What to throw away?

But help is at hand from a book I discovered the other day at the library: Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive by Allison Gilbert. She writes of her own search for meaningful ways to honor her deceased parents. Instead of just relegating memories of those passed to a special occasion or holiday, she wanted ways to keep their memories with her all through the year.

So she consulted with jewelers, artists, scrapbookers, quilters, techie folks, photographers, upcyclers, and even a Hollywood prop artist. The result is a book full of what she calls Forget Me Nots - creative ways to commemorate those who have passed. 

Her 85 Forget Me Nots are broken into five sections: Repurpose with Purpose; Use Technology; Not Just Holidays; Monthly Guide; and Places to Go.

Here are just a few of her suggestions:

Fashion your father's neckties into a quilt or wall hanging

Make a Memory Magnet using a family photo for the fridge

Volunteer your time to organizations or causes that support your loved one's interests or passions

Create a piece of jewelry that incorporates your loved one's signature

Make a playlist of your loved one's favorite songs (My mom and I both loved Frank Sinatra!)

Many of Ms. Gilbert's suggestions are easy to integrate into your days. On the other hand, you might have to rely on the help of others - a tech person, artist, or even a historian - to assist you in your plans. She includes contact information for helpful sources.

This is a useful guide that deserves a permanent place on one's bookshelf. At times, a suggestion may not make sense to you or may not be one that you can bear to contemplate, so having these Forget Me Nots close at hand could prove useful at a later date.

Already her thoughts have prompted my own Forget Me Not. My high school class has planned various activities for this weekend in celebration of our I'll-Never-Tell-How-Many-Years reunion. Yesterday, a group of us met at the high school, ate lunch in the cafeteria alongside current students, and took a nostalgic tour of the building. Before I went, I dug out my class ring and slipped it on my finger. As my mother graduated from the same high school, I also wore her class ring. It was a way to have her with me and share the experience. 

Have you come up with any ideas to keep and incorporate into daily life the memories of family and friends who have passed away? I would love to hear your suggestions.


  1. I wish I'd had this book 16 years ago when both of my parents died within six months of each other. My sister and I went through drawers and cabinets. The saved rubber bands and used brown paper bags were easy to chuck, but the cards and letters were more difficult. In the end, there wasn't really a lot to save and my sister, who has children, kept most of the things, which was fine with me. But I look at all the things I've saved from my life and think I should do some culling before my nieces have to face that chore. What will they think of the tattered matchbook from the bar next to the first apartment I lived in in Boston?!

    1. Joan, I think if we have some idea of how to use some of the family items it helps make the decisions on what to keep and what to let go of. But, still a daunting task.

      Perhaps a shadow box for the matchbook - and other keepsakes - along with your stories of the first apartment.

      I am leaving my jewelry and my mother's jewelry to my great-niece. I will have to photograph and identify in some way who wore the rings and brooches and bracelets. Otherwise, she will have no idea the stories behind the treasures.

    2. I have a few pieces of jewelry from my family and I have put tags on them saying who had owned them. The stories get lost so easily. We just had a Woollens (my mother's family name) reunion. We cousins are the old ones now. It was fun to share memories and stories and sometimes more concrete things like letters.

    3. Tags on the jewelry are a great idea, Joan. Glad you could get together with your cousins. The few cousins I have are scattered about the country. Maybe it's time to organize a reunion...

  2. What an excellent idea for a book. I can see that I will be faced with this dilemma eventually, as my mom lives in the home she grew up in, with many of the things my grandmother left as well as her own things. I am an only child, so I know all of that will mostly come to me. I have some dishes and a couple of pieces of family furiture from my husband's family, and we use those things in daily life and on special occasions.

    I think wearing your mom's high school ring along with your own at your reunion was a lovely thing to do in remembrance.

    1. Kathy, you might want to read this and file away in your mind some of the ideas. It might make decisions easier later on. I do try to use family things as often as possible. There is such a special connection...

      I loved showing off both rings to my former classmates. Some of them had sold their rings for the gold money! I don't think it was out of desperation, just something to do. I wasn't a big fan of high school but it is part of my life.

  3. I lived in California and my older female relatives lived in Missouri when they passed, so I was not offered any of their treasures.

    When our only cousin died, my brother (the family packrat) took all the memorabilia. I had an aunt who lived in California when she passed, and she gave me her good china and her good leather-bound books before she died. She also gave me a not very good painting of one of my grandfather's (her father) hounds. It hangs in my hall. Everything is displayed and/or used.

    I honor those who go before me with food. On their birthdays, we eat whatever was significant in their lives. In my cousin's case (she had cancer) we eat cheeseburgers because just before she died she said that she wished that she could get well enough to eat one last cheeseburger. My aunt who gave me the china is honored with a ladies' lunch, either at home or at a tearoom type restaurant.

    This is not my idea. When I read The First 100 Years, Having Our Say, by the Delaney Sisters, I learned that they honored their father's birthday by cooking all his favorite foods and having a family gathering to eat the meal. I liked the idea and adapted it to fit my circumstances.

    1. Oh, Patsy, I love the food idea! My mom's birthday is coming up next week. She loved chocolate mocha Blizzards from Dairy Queen. Lucky for me I love them too. Guess what I will be treating myself to very soon!

      I'll have to think about a food that my dad liked. Perhaps Oreos. That was his afternoon snack and then every night at 9 o'clock he would enjoy a little bowl of ice cream. Vanilla with Hershey's Chocolate Syrup. Said it settled his stomach.

      Aren't I lucky that my parents didn't just love broccoli and beans!