The Voice of Experience: Planned gestures can be simply perfect

Kootenay Lake columnist Betsy Brierley reflects on the conundrum of deciding what to do with a loved one’s “stuff”...

Deciding what to do with a loved one’s “stuff” after he or she is gone is a conundrum.

What to keep? What to donate to Gleaners or the Creston Museum or other worthy recipient? What to pass on to family members? Who would appreciate that bundle of old letters, the hen and chicks made of wood, the china teapot with the Blue Willow design?

When my mother, Helen Mosher, died 16 years ago in January, we siblings were beset with this problem. But the fact that there are four of us helped the decision making and the creative solutions. (I can appreciate the dilemma of my cousin who is an only child and in the throes of clearing out her mother’s home. She alone must consider what to do with a lifetime of treasures.)

I would be in favour of a detailed will with itemized distribution list, but how often does that happen? We did hold a garage sale — an act of desperation some might think but, on the other hand, appreciated by friends of my parents who discovered keepsakes.

My mother owned three or four dozen bone china teacups, those dainty patterned items with names like Lady Carlyle and Old Country Roses. I can’t remember the exact count, but they filled an entire shelf in the large oak buffet in the dining room. She used them often for bridge nights, all special occasions and for afternoon tea with our neighbour, Kath Hood. They drank a lot of tea together, and I’m sure there are family stories that Mrs. Hood knew that we are not privy to. Drinking tea is like that.

My generation did not have much to do with china teacups. Mugs are still the beverage container of choice among family and friends. Instead of giving Mom’s teacups to an antique dealer, we decided to bestow them on the women and grandchildren in her life. One teacup for each person — daughters, daughters-in-law, male and female grandchildren, nieces, neighbours. Even after that distribution, I still own 11 of them.

Then there was the Blue Willow set of dishes, complete with platters, serving bowls and the teapot. The teapot’s design is a traditional take on the willow tree, the temple, the two doves, the footbridge, the little boat, the apple tree and the crooked fence, but it’s still a sad story. Despite its 18th-century Chinese-inspired design and its story of young love thwarted by the dastardly, rich older suitor, none of us wanted the set. We all had households and dinner dishes of sorts. We parted with the Blue Willow, but not before each choosing a piece that appealed to us.

Appropriately, we decided Mrs. Hood would get the teapot. She appreciated it and brewed tea in it for 16 more years.

Some people gift things of value or sentiment long before they pass away. When someone is brave enough to say, “Hey, I want that painting/clock/chair after you’re gone,” that is a good thing. For my part, I have begun to put masking tape labels on a few items that seem appropriate right now. For instance, I taped a name on the enamelled Russian bowls; perhaps I will put a name on the ceramic Christmas dish my mother made. I’m not wanting to be morbid or to make anybody unhappy. It is the pragmatic thing to do, and it might make things a little easier in the future.

Kath Hood passed away in November. Before she died, she told her children to return the Blue Willow teapot to the Mosher family. Something about that planned gesture is simply perfect.

Betsy Brierley lives beside Kootenay Lake. She used to write for the Advance a long time ago. The Voice of Experience is a column co-ordinated by the Therapeutic Activation Program for Seniors.

Creston Valley Advance