Stuff That Makes The World go Round

“There are no pockets in shrouds.”
My nan has been saying this for years- I’ve never heard it anywhere else.

It’s almost an irrational concept that once someone dies, they still have all this stuff that hangs around. Just… things. Stuff. Possessions such as the ones stored in my Pandora’s Box– the material goods, the trappings and possessions of an average human existence. They’re not always as haphazard and trivial as an unopened packet of cigarettes, or the newspaper from the day you left the world– although its highly likely that somewhere amongst your other bits and pieces, will be objects as average and everyday as those, that cut and comfort those who loved you.


The weekend before Christmas, three weeks after my Gran passed away, my family and I met at the small, cosy house that was her home for the last fifteen years of her life. My mum had been there, off and on, for weeks– months, really, if the truth be known– sorting through her own mother’s possessions, traveling back through her family history a little every time she delved into one of the houses haphazard storage spots. We all have them, pockets in our house where material possessions live and seem to breed– closets and drawers, boxes and cupboards.

When I was a child, my Gran lived with my mother, my father, my brother and I. Her Norm had passed away just months before and, in a way I now understand all too well, she was a woman untethered from herself. (”We applied for social security when he couldn’t work” I remember my Gran saying, not even twelve months ago, “and they said we’d have to wait a bit. Not that it mattered. Six weeks later, and he was dead.” And I wonder how she dealt with that, having just lost her parents and now her husband. How she dealt with missing him so very badly, without any outlet for all that pain to rush to, the way I have here.)

Nic-nacs and dust collectors… when I was little, they were friends.

While we lived on the top floor of the house, my Gran lived on the bottom, with a small lounge room and kitchen, a tiny bedroom and a bathroom we all shared. My brother and I were interned to believe that our Grandmothers space was sacred– as we should have been. We were allowed onto into her area of the house by invite– which came often enough for neither of us to ever feel unwanted– and touched her things only after permission was sought. Her dressing table was, for a part time fairy child such as myself, a wonderland of ostentatious gild and glint and crystal. With her blessing and a concentrated, heavy–handed reverence, I played with heavy brush and mirror sets and beads, lipstick and clip on earrings. I examined shadow boxes full of delicate china ornament and dust–collectors, making tableaux and character of them in the way children too.

But always with a quiet respect that well suited a loving but extremely firm fifty five year old woman with a temper that matched my own.

A box of buttons collected over fifty years. And the Bump, playing with them the way I used to.

That may have been the reason that standing quietly in front of my Gran’s open wardrobe with my mum, twenty five years later, there’s an almost lurking sense of disrespectful intrusion and pertinence. We touch her clothes, her photo albums and jewelry and bank account passbook with a softness and respect that, I think, would please my Gran, knowing her possessions are being treated with a dignity and respect that becomes them. “She would want her things to go to us, rather than the op–shop,” says my mum when I voice my discomfort, as all of us do at one point of another that day. I can the helped– she was such a private, meticulously organized woman; and her room was always such a sacred space.

But it feels special to have her things as my own, none the less. I know she wouldn’t mind her garden ornaments, and some of her much pampered plants, coming to live in my fairy garden.

I take some of her jewelry– only what suits me– and a few hats and gloves and scarves. A photo of her, gorgeous and smoking hot at about twenty years old, circa 1950. Her vases, for fresh flowers in my kitchen.

I ask my mum if I can have the recipe book I photographed for my blog a long, long time ago, and I tuck it away in the top of my wardrobe with my life books– it’s the only thing at feels like ’mine’, not my Gran’s… I may refer to all this stuff as ‘my Gran’s things‘ for the rest of my life.

And the it occurs me to ask my mum about her knitting, her knitting needles– may I have those, too, please? I’m the only member of the family apart from my Gran who ever learned to knit. It was my Gran who taught me, with endless patience, repeatedly grabbing my hands to loosen tight stitches and undoing entire rows to re–hook dropped stitches.

The last thing I created with wool and needles was a pair of scarves for friends going overseas, years ago… before I had children, most certainly. But my Gran, with time up her sleeve, spent years knitting beanies for kids in hospital, wide squares to sow into rugs for the Smith Family. I’m delighted to find three quarters of such a patch–rug already made, folded up within the bags that contain Gran’s collection of a rainbow of fleeces, an assortment of needles from spindly and thin to comforting fat wooden spears.

A suitcase, cane wash basket… and my Gran’s collections of yarn and needles.

Somewhat reassuringly, there is a line or two of knitting already cast on to one set of needles, its stitches perfectly counted so, as long as I don’t drop or double–hook any, it will be another perfectly sized square to add to the rug that I really do intend to finish one day (chronic procrastination not withstanding).

It feels like a gift from her, from my Gran, being the practical kind of woman she was.

She remembered, of course, that I always found casting on- getting started- to be the most difficult part.


It’s difficult not to feel guilty and cheap, my grief seems so easy compared to my brothers, my cousins or my mums– while I miss my grandmother profoundly, it seems I am taking this lightly… and I suppose I am.

But, as I’ve said… there is a beauty in learning to grieve differently. Without so much of the horror, the torture. To mourn someone the way it should be.

I whispered an almost thank you to her as the curtains drew shut at her funeral“Thank you, Gran. Goodbye. I love you…”

I hope she’d be okay with this, with me making what I am of my grief for her.

I think she would be.

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