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Giving Away Eyeglasses: Seeing Loss Through New Lenses

If you’re wondering what to do with eyeglasses your loved one left behind, I’ve got an option for you. I found a home for my parents’ eyewear, but first I had to tackle the hesitancy of letting go.

I’d been collecting the pairs of prescription eyeglasses for years as I found them scattered about my parents’ house in drawers and cabinets. I put them in one spot for a future giveaway. It wasn’t as if I didn’t plan to get rid of them, but then the day approached and I struggled.project20parentglasses

I remember taking my dad for a new pair of eyeglasses the month before he died. I took off work, and we went to the mall. While we waited for the prescription to be filled, we went to the food court. I ate Chinese. Did he?

We buried him in those glasses. He’d worn eyeglasses all of his life. He wouldn’t have looked like himself without them. I remember thinking what a shame he didn’t get his use out of them.

I still have my mother’s last pair of eyeglasses, the ones I took to the hospital and then brought back to her home, where she died two days later. She had used them to work her crossword puzzles. In the end, she didn’t use them. She had more on her mind than puzzles. Like breathing.

So I didn’t give away all the eyeglasses, but I found myself with a collection of 14 pairs. The night before my visit with Project 20/20, which recycles eyewear to be sent to Third World countries, I found myself reminiscing. I felt the attachment. I was scheduled to give away part of my parents. That’s how it felt. That’s how everything I let go of feels, and so I let go of so little.parenteyeglasses2-2

I knew, however, that unlike a lot of my parents’ old things, the eyeglasses would go to good use. They’d be tested to determine the prescription, labeled and sorted into types. In 2016, Project 20/20 distributed 7,653 pairs to missionaries and medical personnel going to countries like Sierra Leone, Nicaragua, Haiti and Guatemala.

I kept my appointment with Grace Bonner and other volunteers at Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Memphis. A lot of places recycle eyeglasses. Project 20/20, a mission of the United Methodist Church, gets donations from all over the country.

The first thing I noticed in the processing room were large bins of eyeglasses. Grace gave my donation to Gary Hensley for cleaning. I had wondered why the eyeglasses were so dirty despite being in cases. He explained the cases deteriorate, leaving residue on the glasses. He identified several recyclable pairs. I took a last glance at them as they lay on the table.


Gary Hensley cleans my parent’ eyeglasses.

Our grief comes in large chunks and in small ones, too. I mourned losing a little piece of my parents that day, earlier this month, but I also discovered a satisfaction in knowing something of theirs would help someone else. I let go. I had to prompt my fist open, but I let go, and I felt good that in some little way, I had progressed. And that my parents were pleased.

To learn more about Project 20/20, or to donate, visit

What did you find among your loved ones belongings to give away and bless another person?

Copyright © 2017 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved.

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