I have spent much of the past few days looking for some pictures. I know I put them away someplace safe; I just can’t remember where. These are pictures I’ve taken of some of my ancestors’ gravesites. When you get into family genealogy and you start growing a family tree, you begin to get very interested in things like gravestones, personal memorabilia, and those boxes you’ve had in storage or hidden away on closet shelves where they’ve sat unopened for years. Ah, there it is…the topic for today’s posting: death boxes.
Okay, if you believe in heaven, that’s where you go after you die. I am certainly not one to interfere with anyone’s beliefs. But after this week, I’ve come to my own personal conclusion that after you die… you go to the boxes. Hopefully you warrant more than one box. I suppose, however, if you did not have much of a life, or didn’t keep much of your personal paraphernalia, then maybe one box it is.
I have a good load of boxes for both sets of parents, especially my mother. My mother, besides taking dictation and typing letters for the judges and doctors she worked for throughout her life, was a writer. She started at a much younger age than I have. Consequently, there is a good supply of words left behind in my mother’s boxes. These consist of manuscripts, letters, various reports and even autograph books that teenagers of her era used to fill up with witty comments from classmates.
The boxes I’ve gone through this week contain nothing I haven’t seen before. After all, I originally packed most of them up in the first place. I just haven’t revisited them for a while. They all pretty much contain the same kinds of things—the stuff we accumulate throughout our lives. Documents easily outnumber everything else. There are both birth and death certificates, driver’s licenses, diplomas, various religious declarations, school projects and letters…some love, some not. Speaking of diplomas, my mother’s from Gratz High School in Philadelphia (1932) is incredible compared to how diplomas look today. Hers is on a piece of still very bright white heavy parchment-like paper that’s at least twenty inches wide. It is elaborately engraved and cries out to be displayed and admired.
There are other interesting things to see too, among them lots of old photographs. These can be the real treasure left behind. But more often than not, as it was in my case, the photographs can also represent hardship and heartbreak. This is because many have faded with time or, more importantly, were never labeled.
In the boxes I have gone through this week, there are magnificent pictures of people of all ages in all kinds of settings, doing all kinds of things. I know most of them must be members of the family…BUT WHO? If I ever offer you a peace of sound advice worth anything at all, it’s this: label your photographs on the back with a minimum of the full names of those present and the date. Those opening your boxes years later will so appreciate your taking the time to do that.
Going through a “box session” revisiting the life of a loved one is a bittersweet task. As you take out each item, it usually comes with some kind of accompaniment. These each unfold in the form of a story you may recall, or an expressive sigh, a laugh or a whimper and more likely an inescapable tear or two.
The paradox these boxes present is not knowing what to do with all the treasure they contain. Lots of it is not usable. Some is actually disposable, although you are reluctant to do so. But a bunch of it…well, most of it, is to be held, observed and explored, remembered and cherished….and then placed back in the box, sealed and returned to the closet for another long span before anyone ever opens it again. Life is a bitch…and then you are boxed.