A few years ago, I watched an episode of the television show "This Is Us," in which one of the characters, Beth, starts a "memory box" for her children because their grandfather had cancer and the prognosis wasn’t good.
Beth used the memory box she made when her dad died as an example. Inside, she put all sorts of things that reminded her of him, including a menu from a restaurant her dad used to take her to.
Beth’s children catch on pretty quickly and one of them places a chess piece into her memory box because her grandfather took the time to teach her how to play the game in preparation for a chess tournament.
After most of us pass away, a loved one will end up carting off a box (or two) of our belongings and placing it in the basement or some out of the way place to reminisce over at some later date that won't come any time soon.
Until I moved a couple of years ago, I had two such boxes in my basement. One from my dad and another from my grandmother. It'd been 18 years and 16 years, respectively, since their passing, but it still felt too soon to open those boxes. Probably because it was their stuff and it almost felt invasive.
But memory boxes are different because we aren’t going through other people’s stuff. We’re handling tangible reminders of the relationship we had (or have) with them.
After watching that episode of “This Is Us,” I started my own memory boxes (made out of shoeboxes) — some that contain artifacts from people I love who have passed away and some from people who are still alive.
In one for my oldest niece, I have a mix CD of some of her favorite songs we listened to when she was young, a Courtney Cole CD from a concert we attended a few years ago, a “Toadally Awesome” sticker of a dancing frog she once gave me before I left on a trip, a picture of a dancing cat she colored with crayons and dated 6-3-97, and a Styrofoam rectangle with her initials stamped into it — a project from middle school that she gave me. I have a lot of other things in the box as well, but you get the idea.
Opening these boxes doesn’t feel invasive, at all. In fact, the little mementos spark wonderful memories for me. Will my niece care about such things after I pass? It’s hard to say. But even if she doesn’t, I hope they remind her how much I loved her.
I have a rule that I set for myself. The stuff I keep has to fit into a shoebox. So, I keep things like cards, letters, CDs, pictures, a book or two, and the like. I’ve made a couple of exceptions, like the huge family Bible my grandmother used to have in her living room and my dad’s golf clubs. But I’m pretty strict about this rule otherwise.
How about you? Do you keep memory boxes? If so, what prompted you to start? How often do you dig into them? Will you let your family and friends know that these boxes exist?