Treasure or Trash, Keepsakes Are Significant
“I admire him, I frankly confess it; and when his time is come I shall buy a piece of the rope for a keepsake.” – Mark Twain.
Keepsakes are important. So why do so few of them make it to the next generation?
In the context of legacies, keepsakes are significant because they bring back our memories of the departed.
Let’s face it: memories do not transfer easily. Your favorite keepsake may, for example, be a dried starfish that you and your mother discovered during a family vacation at the beach. Your starfish brings back the memory of that day: the sound of the ocean, the warmth of the sand underneath your bare feet, the look on your mother’s face, your feelings of delight. The starfish means something to you.
It will probably not, however, mean anything to your son who cleans out your apartment after your death, meaning your starfish will probably end up in the municipal garbage dump along with the soured milk carton from your refrigerator. That is not to say your son is an ignorant oaf (although he may well be); it just means that the significance of the starfish died when you did.
If you want a keepsake to survive you, then you have some work to do. The goal is to give your recipient his or her own association and memory regarding the keepsake. Some suggestions: tell your children/grandchildren/beneficiaries the story while reverently passing around the starfish; place the starfish in a special box and enclose a paper, in your handwriting, with the history; or gift the starfish, together with a stirring rendition of the story, during your lifetime.
Silence is never the friend of keepsakes, as I recently learned first-hand. In September, two weeks after receiving a cancer diagnosis, my 88- year old father passed away. The hospice nurse told us that the night before he died, he got up out of bed and poured himself one final drink from a bottle of Dewars (why he chose a blended Scotch instead of a single-malt will remain one of life’s great mysteries). After his funeral, the family got together and toasted him with a shot of Dewars out of that same bottle. Afterwards my husband and I tucked the bottle carefully away in the deepest recesses of the liquor cabinet to await a toast on the next anniversary of my father’s passing.
Several months later my cousin-in-in law Ruth and her husband Russ came for a visit. We gathered for cocktails on the back porch, and my husband started telling the Dewars story. Russ got very quiet and I noticed that he edged his glass to the back of the table.
He confessed the next day that he had found the bottle and, not knowing the history, poured himself a drink.
So now I have less Scotch but more memories. I may never be able to part with the bottle.
Be it rope, Scotch or starfish, a keepsake may be worth the trouble of preserving.
Virginia Hammerle is the President of Hammerle Finley Law Firm. To sign up for the firm newsletter, email email@example.com. Employment opportunities available.
This article does not constitute legal advice.