First, went the riffraff. Then I got serious, combing through the little bowls that hold jewelry. Into the garbage I scattered hardly-worn necklaces, misfit buttons, and orphan earrings.
Going deeper, I opened the small drawers at the top of my dresser where I put things for safe keeping, things that feel dear and yet without common use. There, I encountered harder-to-parse objects. The stocking cap my father wore in his final days and his hospital wristband. A single red leather shoe my daughter wore as a baby. An entire ponytail of my own 30-something year old long blonde hair cascaded from an envelope. I found teeth in a tiny manila packet, and in a tooth-shaped container, and finally in a ring box – a mingling of my children’s teeth and my own. There may have even been baby teeth from our dog Hannah. And then at the very back of the drawer, in a velvet pouch, the crunchy, soft remains of my father. Just a handful – most of his ashes were buried in the cemetery or thrown into the ocean off of Clogher Beach in Ireland.
My husband has been reading a book on de-cluttering in which the author encourages you to hold an object and ask, “Does this give me joy.” These human relics are not joyful – in fact, they are a bit melancholic. But they whisper of joy just as a seashell whispers of the ocean – of memories so sweet they sting.
These are the objects we save not because we’ll ever use them again – the ashes will not reshape into my father, the teeth will never take another bite. Rather, we hold them as reminders of our mortality. This will pass, they whisper to us. You will be dust. Your teeth will rest in a dusty box with lost buttons and single earrings. And that’s okay. Difficult, indeed, but okay.