Daddy’s Filing Cabinet: When Parents’ Possessions Walk Us Thru Grief
Where do daddies keep their daughter’s handmade birthday cards? Or brochures of sports games they attended together at her college? May I suggest they keep them in their filing cabinets.
That’s where I found the ones my father kept. He stashed old utility receipts there, too, and appliance manuals and sermon notes and photo copies of funny cartoons.
I found my dad in the filing cabinet after he died. That’s the way I put it. I discovered and rediscovered small details of his life. Of him. Of us.
One thing I found in the filing cabinet after both my parents were gone was a draft of the note Dad wrote on my college scrapbook. With him dead, it took on new meaning.
“I love you so much – You may be out of my sight, but never out of my heart.”
You better believe I cried.
A Relationship Begins
The first time I went to the four-drawer cabinet was the morning after he died. I searched it for evidence of life insurance. As my mother washed dishes at the kitchen sink, I rifled through files in the back bedroom closet. I hoped to find good news to lift one worry from her heavy heart.
And then I rarely went back to it for three years. Then Mom died. I was supposed to clean out the house. I soon found myself on an expedition to find my parents in their empty home.
Over the years, I stood in front of the filing cabinet many, many times. I threw very little away at first. I took birthday cards out, read them, and then put them back. I looked through my father’s postal route information. I was proud that in mid-life, he’d finally found a job he truly loved.
After a few years, I began putting all the birthday, Christmas, Father’s Day, Easter and anniversary cards I found around the house in one box on the dining room table. I threw away sermon notes and records of transactions long forgotten.
After a few more years, I selected high school keepsakes of his to put in a bin along with other things of my father’s that I wanted to keep. I threw away appliance manuals. I kept letters.
A decade after my father’s passing, I’d nearly finished cleaning out the filing cabinet.
Recently, I put the cabinet up for sale on Craigslist. My husband did not want another filing cabinet in our own home. No room. Nonetheless, I actually hoped against getting any takers for the filing cabinet. And then someone called. We agreed on a price and a delivery date.
I thought about my long history with the filing cabinet and I realized that it is an imperfect metaphor for my grief journey. Maybe for any grief journey.
Grief is Like a Filing Cabinet
At first, we don’t know what to do with grief. We may take out and handle its different parts. Regret. Sad memories. And happy ones. Anger. Depression. And we put the parts back in, unable to dispose of the pieces, or know what exactly we should do.
And then time goes by. We may find things to comfort us, or that allow us to expel some of the sadness, as I did when I found the draft of my dad’s letter. We learn coping skills, and we may unpack our anger. Our questions. We don’t have to have all the answers anymore.
Grief changes, but does not go away. And so it may be appropriate for the metaphor that I decided to cancel the sale. I told my husband I wanted to keep the filing cabinet for a new, bigger house we plan to buy someday. Let’s put Dad’s in the shed for now. Richard readily agreed.
And so my father’s filing cabinet will get a new life. I’ll put new things in it. Just as I’ve done with my life in the years since I lost him.
What’s in your “filing cabinet?” Is there something in it that is keeping you from putting in something new? Is there a way to move ahead and yet honor your loved one and your relationship with them?
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