Why do elderly people keep old things like ladies’ handkerchiefs?
When I was a young bride, I had a very elderly neighbor who took it upon herself to teach me to bake. I was already pretty good at it, but she taught me how to bake beautiful cakes. She didn’t own an electric mixer, so when we needed to whip egg whites, I got to do the hard work using a hand cranked ‘egg beater’!
What she did own was a huge dresser drawer filled with old handkerchiefs. Most of them had lace edges, and many of them had previously belonged to her mother and her aunts. She was in her 80s when I knew her, so you can imagine how old her handkerchiefs were. She always had one tucked in the belt on her dress or the waistband of her apron. She was never without a soft fabric handkerchief.
We moved from her neighborhood, but I did my best to stay in touch with her, I learned that she had been hospitalized after a stroke, and although I dreaded my visit because I figured it might be the last time I would see her, I knew I had to take her a fabric handkerchief. I dug around in my own dresser drawer to find a couple that had belonged to my husband’s grandmother.
I made my visit. I gave her my little gift. She couldn’t talk to me, but I could tell that she was appreciative. I tucked one of the handkerchiefs into her motionless hand and I continued to hold the other one myself. I used mine to wipe away my tears when I left her that day.
Now that I am older and wiser, I understand why people keep old things. My dear friend always had with her … the tears of sadness or joy from those who had held that handkerchief before her. We need to hold on to the strings to our past. The older we get, the more important that seems.
In Integrity Healthcare Communities, we have a style of therapy called “Memory Box”. While our residents keep items in their rooms that are linked to their memories, we have a box or tray filled with items that will generate a memory. Our folks share their memories with their group and, of course, that prompts others to add to the story.
I’ve kept lots of old things, and sometimes I question the need for them. Then I find an occasion to give my granddaughter a vintage piece of jewelry or a book that I’ve had for decades. That’s the reason I keep things. I can share them later and tie those strings to the next generation.
Remember this, when you are visiting with the old folks in your family or circle of friends. Remember this, when you visit a loved one in a nursing home. Maybe you’ve heard their story a dozen times before. Maybe they’ve shared a picture with you just the previous week. They are holding tight to their own string to the past, before they hand the end of the string to you.
Debbie Moore, Regional Director of Business Development