The Unbearable Lightness Of Letters

September 15, 2009

A friend called me, last week, after I’d written about struggling through the process of sorting through some of my father’s papers.

“After my aunt died,” she said, “after we went through all of her things, I immediately went home and dug up all the old love letters from old boyfriends and notes and letters and things that even mention my old love life and tore them to shreds. I just don’t want my husband and kids to ever see them. I don’t want to die and have them find them. I just don’t.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know what you mean.” I do know what she meant. But also, I don’t. I understand the impulse to protect – if that’s what one is doing – one’s loved ones from the full force of one’s history, as this is recorded in letters and notes and photographs. What I don’t know is, whether that impulse is the right one.

Finding, in my father’s effects, love letters from a woman with whom he had an affair was, for me, a stinging and startling experience, even though I’d known about the affair. It was much worse for my mother, who wrote, after reading my post, that finding and reading the letters was like being being slashed to pieces with a razor blade. She was upset that I could even contemplate keeping the letters. She was angry – briefly – that they were, to me, sacred artifacts – relics providing insight into those parts of my father that I didn’t know well – rather than articles of destruction, evidence of pain. “Children,” she wrote, “must realize that their memories (of their parents) are only a small bit of reality.”

But this is precisely the point, and the problem: my understanding of my father – who I was as close to as I can imagine a daughter to be – was necessarily only partial. I only knew him as my father. I could observe him as a husband, as a friend, as a community leader, as a professional, as a man, but these observed identities were always obscured by what was to me his primary identity as Dad. He was first and always and overwhelmingly Dad. So, yes, my memories of him – my experience of him – represent only a small part of the reality that was Steven Connors. Which is why I have seized and hoarded every clue, every testament, every little thing – every letter, every inscribed book, every journal entry, every photograph, every note, every thing he treasured or valued or just felt compelled to keep – as a source of insight into the man who was my father. In part because I love him too much to let him go, and am clinging to him. In part because I believe that it is an act of love, to seek to know someone as fully as one can. In part because I believe that he was extraordinary, and so that he should be known, and that I will be enriched by knowing him better. In part because I believe that in understanding him, I will come to a better understanding of myself. Because as well as I knew him, I only knew him partially, incompletely. I want to know him better.

So I cling to and study the journals and the letters and the photographs and the suicide notes and the drafts of plans for the robot and for the computerized wheelchair for Tanner and for the house in the woods that he always wanted to build and the scribbled poems and aphorisms and affirmations and the scrawled regrets and the sketches and the artwork and the old bus passes and dead butterflies and dried three-leaf clovers that he kept for some unfathomable reason (my mother, wrily: “maybe the THREE-leaf clover explain his bad luck”) and all the little bits and pieces of paper and random ephemera that will tell me more about who he was. I don’t know if he would have wanted this. I know that part of him would have recoiled from the hurt that some of these things would cause me – what father wants his daughter to know how often he contemplated suicide? – but I also know that he would have understood the impulse to nosce te ipsum and understood that knowing thyself requires, to some degree, knowing thy parents. My father and I shared a love of journal-keeping  and of storytelling and of genealogy, broadly understood. We shared a love of seeking through narrative. And so I think that he would have wanted this. I think that he would have – freed from the awkwardness of sitting across the dinner table and providing his own live narration – wanted me know him, to understand him, to draw out fully, his story, and to learn from it.

Someday, I will want my own children to know me better, to know the stories, to know the woman, to know that I was far, far more than just mom and wife, to know that the partiality of their experience and memory concealed details that they possibly couldn’t have imagined. And (or?), perhaps, to discover (as I have also done, in some important part), that they did know me, that they did understand me, and that all the partially hidden details, once brought to light, just reveal nuance and insight. Understanding.

Which is why I will never destroy my own narrative record. Which is why I will treasure my dad’s. Which is why I will keep recording these – telling these – stories. Even when it stings, even when it hurts.

(Will you do the same with yours? Or is there a shredder in your future?)

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    { 72 comments }

    Mommy X September 15, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Beautiful post. I’m glad you have chosen to keep the letters!
    .-= Mommy X´s last blog ..Love at first sight! =-.

    karen September 15, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    I will. I already have most of my dads papers. He works out of state so he left it with my mom and when she remarried she offered it up to me (I am glad she did, last year her house burnt down and so many memories including these would be lost). I have his letters to me from prison that I still have the memory of them that sticks in my mind because he would write them to me on the back of a chocolate bar wrapper. The letters of him stating how he hates my mom, then letters from weeks later how he is so sorry. These things i will tightly hang on to. Absolutely.
    .-= karen´s last blog ..Custody =-.

    Jamie September 15, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Interesting.

    After my Mom died, my Dad presented me with a small collection of letters she had written to us after my Dad’s mom had died at a relatively young age (late 40′s? Very early 50′s?). The letters were not….oh…very flattering of me. They were written in the midst of my most angsty teen age years and I got the DISTINCT impression that she didn’t like me very much then. That was so hard for me to take. She was gone. Dead. Buried and I couldn’t ask her if I was that bad. If she liked me now. If she looked back on my childhood with fondness. It sucked.

    I think I threw those letters out. Actually, what I remember is that I found a sheaf of loose leaf paper laying around and chucked it. The next day I felt a pang that they COULD have been my Mom’s letters and I let them go. They didn’t help me. At all. They didn’t unravel any mystery. They just hurt my heart and made me doubt myself in a way I never want to feel again and NEVER want my children to feel.

    I’d be that friend who shredded things. Not because I wouldn’t want them to have the whole picture, but because I’d be afraid of the holes. My mom stopped her journal when, IMO, her life got better. My brother and sister and I got older and probably easier. She got a job she liked and made new friends. She wasn’t lonely. She never wrote a follow up. She never spoke about the friends we had become, even though we had. She never wrote that she was proud of me; of the person or mother I’d become. I’d shred things because I’d rather them have the holes of not knowing all of me than the incomplete picture that hurt their heart.

    Sorry for the novel.
    .-= Jamie´s last blog ..Things I would like to do (but won’t) =-.

    Marilyn (ALotofLoves) September 15, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    I read your mom’s post and I feel bad for the pain she is going through but I can understand where you are coming from. I can see how having all the bits that your dad kept would be so important to you. I don’t keep many mementos myself but I don’t plan on destroying any of the things I have kept. If my kids (or husband) find interest in them after I’m gone that’s fine with me.
    .-= Marilyn (ALotofLoves)´s last blog ..Classic Black =-.

    Beth September 15, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    My dad has what he calls a burn box. There are things in there he wants destroyed when he dies. He’s put my husband in charge of that task, probably because he doesn’t trust that his daughters (especially the daughter with the driving need to know, um, hi, my name is Beth and I’m an avid researcher) will actually do as he wants.
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..We Need Health Care Reform =-.

    Bill McNutt September 15, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Your father should find another candidate for that job. When he dies, he’s putting your husband between you and your need-to-know. You’re going to resent him doing what your father asked.
    .-= Bill McNutt´s last blog ..Well, That Sucked, But Not Nearly As Much As It Could Have =-.

    Lisa September 15, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    My father committed suicide 10 years ago and sadly he didn’t leave much behind that could give us insight into the person he was, beyond our father. I wish I had journals, letters, random notes to get to know the man behind my father.

    I keep things like that, letters, journals, notes, etc. I hope one day it helps my children know me better.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..First Camping Trip =-.

    Amanda September 15, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    I have kept a journal since I was 8, saved letters from high school friends and boyfriends, I keep boxes full of all these things stashed in a closet in my parents house. There is no way that I could ever get rid of those things. Yes, some of it is hard to look at, some embarrassing but it is all a part of me that can never be destroyed.
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..9/11 =-.

    Planet Mom September 15, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Whoa. Profoundly woven and courageously shared. That’s code for, “Sheez, woman, you think a lot–and you dare to say it…” But seriously, your words of truth will resonate with the masses. Thank you for sharing as you walk this difficult path.

    MOAM September 15, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    So, truth be told, we threw away the letters we found hidden in her underwear drawer, because they contained her rants against wrongdoers and the unjustness of life and her plans for the divorce that never happened. They were so depressing and that is not how we wanted to remember her.
    .-= MOAM´s last blog ..Why I Love My Mother =-.

    Regina September 15, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    First, thank you for your honesty in this process. I had the experience of helping to clean out my aunt’s apartment a few years ago after her suicide. We didn’t find much we didn’t already know, but I kind of wish we had.

    On the other hand, it prompted me to write letters to my daughter (and start my blog) because there are so many things I want her to know that I may never be able to tell her. Truthfully, I want to be able to screen what that is. And the permanent, tangilbe stuff I want to be positive. Hopefully, I will have the opprotunity (when she is an adult) to share with her personally the other experiences that have shaped me, but I want the opportunity to put them in context, not found after I’m gone for her to struggle with.
    .-= Regina´s last blog ..Day two of shred =-.

    A'lis Richardson September 15, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Your posts always seem to come on a day when I am having a difficult time and are just what I need from an emotional stand point to remind me it is ok to grieve in what ever way feels right to me. I totally get why you would want to keep the letters and every little blurb. I can also understand why your mom would be so hurt by them. I too was very close to my sister, but yet felt surprised by some of the things I learned about her after her death. You explained it so well…I always just thought of her as my sister, but she was so much more and other people got to experience different pieces of her. She too kept a journal and I do too. I have already told my husband it is ok to read it if he wants when I am gone with the understanding that it is what I thought and felt in that very second. We are who we are; none of us is going to die having lived a perfect life- written record of it or no record of it. I am going to keep my narrative too. Thank you for your honest revealing posts. They are sincerely helping me cope.

    becky September 15, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    I don’t know. I once told my husband to destroy my journals if anything ever happened to me. But that was before we had our son. That, with my yearning to be known and understood, may just change my mind. I’ve kept a journal off & on since 5th grade. Who knows, maybe my grandchildren will have the genealogy bug that I do and will find it interesting. I would *love* to have old journals from my grandparents. Am fortunate that we have some of my grandfather’s POW journal. So glad that was never destroyed.

    Letters to/from my ex? I still have them, although I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s a part of my history. And reminds me how silly I was as a teenager. But it’s also painful because it represents a time of separation from the rest of my family.

    So I don’t know if those will hit the shredder bin or not.

    There have been times I’ve been angry or frustrated at my husband, and vented in my journals. Would it hurt him to read them if I go first? I hope he would understand that I needed to work things out on paper.

    Catherine, I can’t believe how much this has resonated with me. I know my dad has never kept any writings of any kind, so what I know of him I need to find out NOW. Thank you.
    .-= becky´s last blog ..I remember =-.

    Bill McNutt September 15, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Of COURSE it’s going to hurt him. You’re gone, you can’t answer his question, and your writings are dripping venom all over him, at a time when he’s ALREADY hurting the most.

    Do you hate him enough to DO that to him?
    .-= Bill McNutt´s last blog ..Well, That Sucked, But Not Nearly As Much As It Could Have =-.

    becky September 15, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    No, Bill, not at all. He knows we’ve been through some rough times. And he knows that I need to process things through writing. I write out my frustrations, come to a resolution, or at least feel that it’s not so insurmountable, and move on.

    I would ask him to wait to read them, and understand that they’re not the entire portrait of our life and love. I think he knows that. Yet, I don’t write only the bad. I also talk about how much I enjoy him, and the good times. It’s not all dark, nor is it all light.
    .-= becky´s last blog ..I remember =-.

    Jamie September 15, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    My Dad had letters my Mom wrote to him as well. He found them after she was beyond the point of being able to answer his questions or re-assure him. Honestly, ike I said above, if it leaves any question I’d want it gone. I don’t want my husband to every feel like my Dad did, agonizing over whether or not he was a good husband when it’s too late to be reassured.
    .-= Jamie´s last blog ..Things I would like to do (but won’t) =-.

    becky September 15, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    Jamie, that must have been so hard for your dad. That reminds me to make sure that what I have written – or what I write in the future – is balanced enough that my husband truly understands how much I love him. Even when I’m angry or frustrated. It’s all a part of who I am, and our lives together. I don’t think I can destroy any of it, but that’s just me. My husband has never, ever read my journals. He believes they are private. I’m not even sure he would after I am gone, to be honest.
    .-= becky´s last blog ..I remember =-.

    CatrinkaS September 15, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    You will keep them, too, because you know that so many lack that complexity, that emotional depth – there is beauty in the facets.

    I ache for you, when the bits and pieces and parts you describe reveal so much poetry in this person – that you not only got know, but got to be a part of, from whom you received love and affirmations.

    We are all so much more than the parents our children know us to be – and I, too, what my children to learn that. When they are adults. When the details mean something. And I hope they are complicated enough creatures themselves to ‘get’ that – to be intrigued, when hurt and confused by some facts, rather than repelled.
    .-= CatrinkaS´s last blog ..Squirrel =-.

    MrsDesperate September 15, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Wow. I think on some level your Dad knew that writing these things there was always a chance you would get to read them. Maybe on some level he wanted you to know the real him …the other facets to him, good and bad? I got rid of all my high school and uni stuff many, many years ago, when I first went overseas. I didn’t want it getting into the wrong hands! In some ways I regret that now … would be fun to show the kids, at least some of it. Now I guess I don’t really have any secrets, don’t write or leave anything around that I wouldn’t be embarrassed for my family to see.
    .-= MrsDesperate´s last blog ..To market, to market =-.

    Jessi September 15, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Like you, I don’t believe I will ever shred those memories. Those pieces of myself need to stay a part of my existence. If my children someday discover them and their opinions are changed by the shadows of the woman I am when not their mother, then so be it. If nothing else, it should drive home the fact that who we are is always more than the single facet than can be seen by any one side.
    .-= Jessi´s last blog ..Conversations with a Four Year Old =-.

    Angela September 15, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    I keep everything of mine. I keep it all, the old journals, notes between my highschool friends and me, old drawings, photos, everything. It’s why I keep a blog too. Just another way to record everything. Because someday I will be gone, and this is all the tangible evidence that will be left. I know I’ll “live on” in my children, family, friends, etc. But they might want something tangible to hold on to also.

    Maybe that’s why I’m a librarian too. We like to keep and preserve it ALL.
    .-= Angela´s last blog ..Sometimes my morbidity scares me. =-.

    watercolor September 15, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    I have journals that would so hurt my family to read and know what has been thought in my own head if I were to die before them. But I will not destroy them. I need the words to live and to live in the house with me. Somehow, they keep me safe from needing to live them. Should the universe destroy them somehow, fine. But not by my hand. And if I should die and my family read them, well, they will learn an awful lot about me and maybe have a greater understanding for my “odd” ways.
    .-= watercolor´s last blog ..IH =-.

    Amy September 15, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    I have never left a comment for you but have been following your story. I now feel guilt that this is my first comment when my first probably should have been sympathy for your lost. Now to the point of my comment.

    I’m not sure I want my children to know all there is to know about me. I want their memories of me to be “mom” memories. I don’t think they need the burden of knowing everything. Would that make them feel like they should have known those facts while I was alive. Tried to help me with my problems I kept from them.

    This probably isn’t healthy but I’m not sure I give anyone if my life full access. My friends now don’t know all of my childhood secrets or all of the struggles I have with my marriage or how I feel about myself. My husband probably knows the most but I have kept things from him. Things that are mine and mine alone.

    I don’t want to leave items behind that will cause someone hurt.

    Catherine September 15, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    I’m with you. No shredder. I treasure every scrap of paper my own extraordinary father left behind. I scribble compulsively in journals. I like the record, the storytelling, the streams of words from the minds of loved ones. I’m sad that my husband doesn’t keep a journal, in case I outlive him. I want to know.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Reader Response =-.

    Kimberley Aitken September 15, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Wow. I love this blog post. I lost my Mother almost 10 years ago when I was 20. I have yet to read he unfinished novel and her diary to me. Maybe I really should.
    .-= Kimberley Aitken´s last blog ..Memories Whored’d =-.

    Ariel September 15, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    I’ve kept every piece of anything that I could get my hands on that belonged to my grandma. Brian doesn’t understand why I have a box with her reading glasses and the bars of lavender soap that she kept in her drawers and the hair pic that she used to comb her hair for as long as I can remember. And why I want her old fashioned paintings hanging on my walls.
    It’s all I’ve got, now- paintings and a box of treasures that other people would have thrown out. They are necessary to me. And if she’d kept a journal I’d have read it. I want to know about the mysterious 3rd husband no one will talk about. I want to know what she thought of the cancer that finally killed her. I DON’T KNOW! There is so much I’ll never know. And we were CLOSE! We were best friends! And I just don’t know!
    The box of treasures was bigger, at one point. After a year had passed, I was able to let some things go. I suspect that some things you will be able to let go, after you have them firmly in your heart and brain, where you need them to be. I have nothing of my brother’s and I so very much wish for something, anything. When my grandma passed it was expected, we’d watched her die for 5 years. There was acceptance. There was pain, but muted. When my brother died it was sudden and there was no warning.
    It’s so very fresh and raw for you, do what you need to do to heal and grieve. There is no expiration date on grief, no day, no month, no year when you’ll feel magically “better” or “normal”. You’ll never be the same way again.
    But eventually? You’ll find a new “okay”.
    Hugs.
    .-= Ariel´s last blog ..Need advice =-.

    Kat September 15, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    I just lost my Mom in July, and while looking at old photos, came across some letters my Dad had written her, back in 1966, just before they were married. Although reading them was sort of funny, I think my sisters and I were mostly disconcerted…my parents had both grown and changed so much in the intervening 43 years that we didn’t recognize this bluff fellow instructing his bride how to deposit a cheque in their bank account (for real!)

    I think in the end there are some things about ourselves that we mean for public consumption, and others that we don’t. I have gone back and destroyed old journals, poems, sketches that I made simply because I feel as a person I’ve moved on from the point I was at when I created them. I don’t need them anymore, and they don’t accurately represent the “me” I’ve evolved into, after having passed through whatever events spurred me to create them.

    But to me, so much of that stuff (journals, letters, etc.) is cathartic…when I’ve worked the issues, out, I don’t so much need the evidence anymore, you know?

    I guess it comes down to this: I see my life as a journey, and I don’t think any of the snapshots taken along the way gives a full enough impression of me as a person to do other than make my loved ones feel a little unsteady about me, especially if I’m no longer there to explain and elaborate.
    .-= Kat´s last blog ..What Really Burns Me? =-.

    Ginger September 15, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    It has been fascinating to hear how the different the perspective is on this point, when it comes from a parent or peer to the writer, or from a child. I think I have some to shred and some to keep. I feel bad my husband has to keep moving my old suitcase of love letters from a man I would never want back every time we remodel something, but I don’t really want to get rid of them. What I would like even more, is to get back I the letters I sent that man.
    .-= Ginger´s last blog ..Destruction, chaos, and the brink of financial ruin, I kind of love you =-.

    Her Bad Mother September 15, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    My dad actually photocopied some of the letters that he wrote to my mom (some very difficult ones, responding to her devastation and anger over their separation.) So from some periods I have both sides of the correspondence. It’s almost as if he knew that they would be read, and wanted to ensure that his side of the exchange was preserved. Maybe not, but still.

    Issa September 15, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I understand your mother’s point of view. I understand your point of view too. I think we know the person we know. I know my mom as my mom. She is a million different things to a ton of other people. But she will always be my mom first. It will always be weird to think of my parents ever having lived together, much less having sex. *shudder* I do know that loss is hard to measure and no one should expect you to see your dad in any other way. Even your mom.

    I have things I’d love to say, I should get rid of. A journal in particular from a horrible time. I hesitate to save it, but I know I will. It’s a reminder to me, that life can be horrendous and then it eventually gets better. If/when my girls find it one day, I hope they understand that it was just a small piece of me. Just a small portion of their childhood. That I worked my ass off, to be a better person after that. For them as well as for me. Humans are complex, even our parents.

    Hugs to you and your family.
    .-= Issa´s last blog ..Just when I thought I couldn’t love her more =-.

    Marie September 15, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    I think writers are in love with narrative to such an extent that it hurts us to destroy it. Sure artifacts might be painful or embarrassing stuff, but it’s also a STORY. And we value stories.

    I know I just outed myself on my own blog by finally posting about my affairs and the resulting struggles in my marriage. I feel as uncertain about this as some here do. My daughters, while young, know about my blog and I occasionally read bits to them. Is it wrong to mix discussion of my issues with their dad with news of my errands, our family outings, and Disney videos?

    But, ultimately, this is who I am as a person. These experiences have made me the mom and person they know today. They’ve also impacted my daughters. When they’re old enough, I want them to know as much of the story of my life and theirs as they would like to know. Just as I hope for them to be strong and human in their own lives.

    I’m delighted to have found your blog-complex!
    .-= Marie´s last blog ..Beyond Blame (Defensiveness, Guilt, Innocence, Accusation, Denial and Responsibility) =-.

    Kim Tracy Prince September 15, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    A few years ago I dumped all the love letters from old boyfriends and lots of the bad poetry I wrote in my tortured youth. Now I wish I hadn’t. Also, I am going to designate a friend to curate the remaining materials after I die.
    .-= Kim Tracy Prince´s last blog ..All-New Blog, Now With More Action! =-.

    Mrs. Wilson September 15, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    I often feel like shredding my history – getting rid of all that was me – even as recent as yesterday. It’s the self-hatred of myself that makes me want to do that. But, I haven’t.

    But, I completely understand why you’d want to keep your father’s things – I would do the same.
    .-= Mrs. Wilson´s last blog ..Kent Hearted =-.

    Jennifer September 15, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    I hadn’t thought much about how I have shredded proof of my past life; read- proof of my not exactly shining moments.

    The other day I was giving thought to this and was prompted to write a poem about why we lie. In it I discuss how we sometimes cover our actions and don the cloak of protector, but pose the question- Isn’t it only self-preservation?
    .-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Cicada =-.

    Scott September 15, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    The nice thing is, your narrative record will be overwhelmed with “HBM” posts. And Emilia & Jasper will get to see that there were people from all over the world who read what you wrote – about yourself, about them, about the world around you – and loved it. And so, in a way, loved YOU. That’s a pretty good record to leave, I think.
    .-= Scott´s last blog ..Positive Reinforcement =-.

    Cassie September 15, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Beautiful post. My mother died when I was only 8 so I hardly remember anything of her. After she died, I always thought of her more as an angel, as someone who was so obviously perfect, that if she had lived she would have been THE perfect mother, and that she had also been a perfect person when she lived.

    Then I found her diary and a book of poems that she wrote in her teens. The poems were angsty and the diary told all about her losing her virginity at 15 and many other things that I’m sure the rest of my family would have kept from me about her. And of course it did change my opinion of her, but not in a bad way. It made me realize that she was a real person and I felt closer to her once I realized that she had made mistakes in her life too.
    .-= Cassie´s last blog ..WW: Little Drummer =-.

    Miss Behavin September 15, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    You know, this is something I’ve contemplated over and over again. I’ve been a journal keeper for over 20 years, and, once a journal is filled, I toss it in my huge Rubbermaid container with the rest of ‘em, which is stored in the back of my closet.

    It used to be a New Year’s Day tradition for me to sit in solitude and re-read the previous years journal, maybe two, to gauge how far I’d come, as well as relive some of life’s sweeter moments. I’d cry, at times, at the person I used to be and how hard it actually was living through some of those moments. I’d laugh, at times, as I looked back on some of my wild and crazy escapades. My heart swelled with pride as I relived the birth of each of my kids and the days and months after their homecoming.

    I’ve told myself more than once that I want to burn or shred those journals before I die because I don’t want my children, or my husband, reading what was written at different stages in my life, some of which I’m not proud of. But then, I stop and think about all the great accomplishments inside those pages and wonder if it would really be all that bad for them to know me, all of me, when the time comes.

    I’m still not sure what’s right for me.

    But, I’m glad you have the tools at your fingertips to gain a greater and deeper understanding of your Father.
    .-= Miss Behavin´s last blog ..Hellicopter Parenting: Does it ever stop? =-.

    becky September 15, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    I have a huge stack that I haven’t gone back and read. The ones from my first marriage are so painful I just can’t do it. Maybe someday I’ll be able to go back and read them, thankful of how far I’ve come.

    And yeah, I also hope they would know all of me, but am still not sure which is best for me. Maybe I’ll figure it out. Maybe I’ll never have to and they’ll have to decide if they want to read or not.
    .-= becky´s last blog ..I remember =-.

    verybadcat September 15, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    No shredder for me. But we knew that. ;)
    .-= verybadcat´s last blog ..For the Love of Words =-.

    SallieB September 15, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    I had the unique experience of going through my late grandmother’s personal affects with my mother as we were grieving. Not only did we find remarkable papers about my Grandmother’s life, not all of which were of the squeaky clean life that we thought she had, but we found a packet of love letters from my mother’s love before she met my father.

    Of course, being nosy children, we read them. All. Outloud. In front of her.

    It was a brutal and embarrassing thing to do to my mother. But, like a trooper, she took it gracefully, even if her face was burning red. I am pretty sure she would have never wanted us to see those.

    And you know what? It opened another door for us as a family and the relationship we have with our mother and how we remember our grandmother. My perception and respect of both extraordinary women deepened and widened, because their life was so human and emotional and imperfect. It was a life I could relate to not only as a child, but as an adult. And I count myself lucky that I was able to have a window into that life, warts and all.

    okay — novel over. :)

    Amy @ Muddy Boots September 15, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    My dad died in December. He had been ill, but it went from them planning his move to a long-term care facility to vomiting blood and being told that he wouldn’t live through the night. He died seven hours later.

    I was in Gatineau (you and I met at the park in Ottawa in July) while he and my mom and sisters were together in Regina.

    When I went back for the funeral, I took it upon myself to go through the bulk of his home office for my mom. I didn’t find anything in the same category of what you found, but I definitely understand your desire to keep all the bits of him.

    Like you, I consider my dad to have been an extraordinary man. We were also close. I treasure all the little bits of paper I have -the poems, the journals, the dreams he recorded, the quotes he wrote down. The mere sight of his hand writing brings waves of emotion that sometimes surprise me with their intensity.

    At this point, what I’d really like is to find someone to crack the password on some of the electronic files I found on his computer. I know that they are things that he would want us to read (a book he was working on, mostly) but no one thought to get the password from him in those last few hours.

    I have this huge desire to read his thoughts though. I can hardly put it into words…

    (So all you HBM-reading computer hacks out there? Call me.)

    Hugs, Catherine. Your words over these past weeks have helped me articulate some of my own feelings regarding my own dad’s death.

    Thank you.
    .-= Amy @ Muddy Boots´s last blog ..contemplative =-.

    Fairly Odd Mother September 15, 2009 at 11:08 pm

    I keep all of my old letters, notes and photos. There are only two things I’m considering shredding: #1) “The List” (you may know what this list tallies); #2) some semi-vulgar photos I took while drunk with friends when I was in my 20′s. Nothing too terrible, but those are the things that give me pause.

    Otherwise, I think my kids will get a kick reading old love letters from ex’s, but, then again, there isn’t anything so shocking in them that they’d be upset by them.

    I haven’t gone through my dad’s things since he died almost 5 years ago—my mother did that. I’m sure she’d get rid of anything that she wouldn’t want us to see but I’m kind of dreading digging up any skeletons when she is gone and we have to go through their things.

    Laurie September 15, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    “We shared a love of seeking through narrative.”

    I loved this.

    I found letters, once, that explained part of my history that had not been shared with me. It opened up some useful communication and it really helped me comprehend some things that hadn’t held together in my life, but it wasn’t without pain. A lot of ultimately useful and sometimes even necessary things aren’t.

    I’ve removed the written record of one part of my history that I worked through and wanted no reminders of, that I didn’t want to share going forward unless I chose to, because it happened a long time ago and I feel it needs my words to really make it clear now. I hope I never have to do that again, but now I can’t say I never would. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time.
    .-= Laurie´s last blog ..Come and passed =-.

    falwyn September 15, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    This is hard. Jamie – you made some amazing points, that will really make me think. It’s true, I think, that the picture can so easily be skewed (which is something for me to think about as I journal – which I do… a lot).

    But thank you Catherine, for so beautifully describing my feelings about it. As you do about many things. :)
    .-= falwyn´s last blog ..Project: encyclopedia of my childhood =-.

    Mariana September 16, 2009 at 6:50 am

    It’s hard to figure it out. I don’t know… I have my treasure box with all of my memories, old letters and so many things that made part of my history.
    I think our children only see us as mommy and sometimes the real women behind the mommy may be a little diferent of what they expected. But it’s so sad when someone dies and doens’t leave much behind. Feels like we can’t keep a trace of them, fells like the end of the story, as if we could’t tell it from the begining anymore.
    I know your pain is real but reading your post brougth to my mind a scene from the movie the bridges of madison county, and the two growned up childs going through their mother belongings and discovering the women behind the mom they knew and makes me think if my baby girl will know how to handle this women she has as a mother…
    It’s hard…
    .-= Mariana´s last blog ..Um Adeus… =-.

    Imogen Howson September 16, 2009 at 9:18 am

    Shred. I hate the idea of my partner or children finding stuff that hurts them when it’s too late to ask me about it and let me explain.
    Not that I have anything that needs shredding, I don’t think. I’m kind of private. If something isn’t for sharing, it’s not for writing down either.
    I won’t shred all the unpublished (unpublishable!) manuscripts, though. I’m not exactly proud of them, but I don’t think it’ll hurt the kids to see what a terrible writer their mother was when she was fifteen. They can read those. But if they laugh too much I’ll come back and haunt them.
    Immi

    lala September 16, 2009 at 9:19 am

    I’m grateful this issue came up and can be commented on by so many people with diverse opinions in such a respectful way. It’s really making me take stock and I need to figure out what I would want done with over 20 years of angst filled journals that I’m not sure I even want to reread, much less someone else. I know my current husband would throw them out right away. He’s already proven himself an ass. I need to find someone I trust to “curate” in case of emergency. So much to think about.

    Lu ~ @masmom September 16, 2009 at 9:21 am

    I will be leaving behind my narrative, for sure. That is the whole reason I started a blog. Just a few months ago I started wondering how I was going to explain to my son that his grandfather not only killed himself, but also took two of his sons (my son’s uncles) with him. How am I giong to explain this to him? HOW? There was no note, no narrative to find. I would know, I had to clean out the house. What I wouldn’t give to come across some kind of understanding, some kind of comfort by seeing where my dad was and why. I know that even if I had something tangible to hold onto it would not make the pain less, just more reasonable.
    I have barely started scratching the surface of my feelings on my blog, but I am working on it. I want it to be a testament of my life and feelings. I am hoping that through writing it out I may be able to come up with a way to help my son understand, except I might have to understand first.
    I know where you are coming from, from experience and I am so sorry you are there. It is dark there, but know you are not alone. There will always be a hand to pull you out…when you are ready.
    .-= Lu ~ @masmom´s last blog ..Random Thoughts, I haz ‘em. =-.

    jeri lynne September 16, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Wow…ok I read your blog..never commented and I also follow you on twitter..I think your an amazing person who has been dealt a bad hand in this game we call life…

    I’m going to say things that are just my opinion..nothing more…things I felt when my hero,my best friend..my daddy passed away last year….

    You and your mother are entitled to feel and grieve which ever way is best for you.Yes its going to sting that one isn’t doing something you want them to do..but there is always a time in life when you need to decide to agree to disagree…

    As for the letters..I would also keep them if for nothing more than to see his handwriting or to read HIS words..When my dad passed away my parents were in their 37th yr of marriage..to the best of my knowledge there weren’t anything hid in his “closet”..but since I have watched you go thru this a part of me wishes there was…then I too could still hold my daddy…it may only be in a piece of paper but he poured his heart into those letters..and I would hold those letters close to my heart…

    The pain a child {no matter what their age is} goes thru when they lose a parent unlike any other pain I have ever experinced..I pray now for comfort for my children when I pass…

    O'Neal September 16, 2009 at 10:52 am

    This is a hard one, on so many levels, and really comes down to a matter of personal preference. When I was about 13 or so I was looking for spare blank tapes to tape music off of the radio and found an old one from our retired answering machine and thought nothing of it – till my Mother almost had a meltdown over wanting it back – never explaining why. To me, at THAT point it was just people talking after the machine had picked up, my Dad and other people’s casual conversations. Well, fast fwd about 12 years when I went through my OWN ordeal of a heart breaking affair by my husband, and after a few dropped “I feel your pain” hints and upon realization that my own Dad had done the same exact thing to my Mother it nearly killed me, hurting JUST as bad as what my hubby had done to me.

    I am still to this day on the fence about whether I wish I would have found out OR not, it hurt mostly because growing up we were so close and I never in my wildest dreams thought my Dad was capable of such hurt. But on the other hand it brought my Mom and I just a little bit closer being able to relate to the pain we endured.

    When it comes down to my personal private life and my own children, there are certain things I’d like kept AWAY from them (like my life from age 14-18 LOL!), although it more than likely won’t be up to me if/when they find them out. I just hope that some day in some way it might help them understand more than hurt them.

    HONESTLY, my BIGGEST fear of suddenly dying would be WHO cleans out my stuff! And that fear comes after I was left to clean out my late MIL’s belongings after she passed 5 years ago and found a LARGE collection of her “personal toys”…and I truly believe she would have rather it be ME that found & disposed of them opposed to HER Mother! =0
    .-= O’Neal´s last blog ..Forward Thinking =-.

    Shawna September 16, 2009 at 11:24 am

    In a semi-unrelated way, compared to all your other comments: thanks for the Kundera reference. I love the way you write.
    I am so sorry that you lost your dad and your mom lost her soul mate. I can feel your angst (both of you) and know that you are both entitled to it. Just try to remember not to hurt eachother intentionally along the way.
    My things will be left too. Except that which I’ve already edited. My family needs to accept that I am a whole person not just a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, and also to understand that these things are only snapshots of moments.
    .-= Shawna´s last blog ..5 years =-.

    Jo September 16, 2009 at 11:43 am

    I think is it is a really odd idea that you can control “how you want to remember” someone or how someone will remember you so that it is an idealized version of reality. I don’t get that at all. I’ve never experienced that level of control over my relationships, never mind memories!

    I also can’t imagine trying to sanitize my life for my children. As if they don’t know my imperfections already!

    So, I think I’m out of sync with most of the posters on this thread.

    Linda September 16, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    I think of myself as an emotionally private person… I want my journals around for *my own* reflection from time to time, but these thoughts and musings and woes were mine and mine alone and were never meant to be shared (even if some of those select thoughts in some form do end up being shared with another person). I think about this conundrum sometimes and wonder if I should just scan my journals, password-lock the files and then burn/shred the originals.

    On the other hand, I’m all for keeping other bits of ephemera — cards, letters, memorabilia — that isn’t so *intensely* personal and private. I suppose this sounds like preserving a censored version of myself for posterity, but really, most of us (even the very open and forthright among us) have internal lives and don’t share every thought, every moment, every fear and embarrassment with the world. And that’s OK. We’re allowed to have private relationships with ourselves. I want my daughter to know that I was a complex, often-conflicted person and I do intend to leave behind things I’ve written, but much of my journal-writing over the years has been cathartic and not particularly thoughtful or revealing.

    lynn @ human, being September 16, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    response on my blog :)
    .-= lynn @ human, being´s last blog ..Days of Grace: 188/365 =-.

    Kari September 16, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    When I was a teenager I found some steamy letters my mom wrote to her boyfriend at the time. I was mortified to say the least.

    So I wonder, if I die when my girls are teenagers will they really want to know about affairs or fights or mommy insecurities? Will they understand that a venting journal entry after a bad day does not mean that I hated being a mother? Will they realize I wrote often during the tough times but not so much in the good ones?

    I don’t know but you can bet I will be giving it some serious thought now! And I will also be headed to the garage to go through my stuff. Perhaps then I will have a clearer picture…
    .-= Kari´s last blog ..Fame Girl =-.

    Aidan Donnelley Rowley September 16, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    Gorgeous, brave words. Thank you.
    .-= Aidan Donnelley Rowley´s last blog ..I Will Be Happier in Twelve Weeks! =-.

    Michelle Pixie September 16, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    I have done the same. I cling to everything. My dad died two years this October and I miss him to the core of my being. I could never put it as well into words as you have, but I feel the same. I still feel like someone pulled the rug right out from under me constantly and when I find the ability to stand (thanks to time I do more and more) but I still have those moments that bring me to my knees.

    Holding onto him is what I yearn for. I have had a child since my dad died and she is named after him and was born two days before his birthday. Sometimes I worry if this is a lot for her to bear and it breaks me into a million pieces to know that she will never ‘know’ him the same way my oldest two do. But I can only hope that all I have of him I can share with her to give her insight on the wonderful man that is her Grandpa.
    .-= Michelle Pixie´s last blog ..Monkey Crawl =-.

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