I stood frozen in front of a wardrobe of clothes. What do I do with these? My mother had just passed away and all that was left of her were beautiful memories and her things. Quite a number of things and it happened to be my job to sort it out.
So, my journey of sifting through memories — and learning a valuable life lesson in the process — began.
I have never thought that things can actually make you cry. I thought the movies are exaggerating when a character loses someone and cries over the belongings of the dead. It’s not an exaggeration. It’s real. At least for me. We attach memories and a piece of the owner in inanimate objects. It’s not so much of the things that made people cry. Rather, it’s the memories.
But then things shouldn’t have memories. The tears actually came from attachment. We attach meaning and memories to material things and this is what makes us emotional. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry. After all, losing someone is sad and we are human. It’s normal. But it becomes abnormal when for example, we feel a sense of dread when we are about to part with items we have unconsciously tied the memories of deceased with.
I realized that I have to let go. I can’t hold on to my mother’s things because it would be wasteful and I wouldn’t want that. I’m keeping a few things as memento but that’s about it. The other things can find better homes. They can be of better use for others who need it more than I do.
I realized that I was holding on and the reason I found it difficult to let go was because I felt like I was giving away pieces of my mother. It was a rather foolish thought, in my humble opinion.
Things are things. They are no more than things, inanimate objects. We are not our things. We do not become part of our things. To think that things are somehow parts of the owners is attachment and attachment brings suffering.
To attach ourselves to material object is suffering. Sometimes we are the only people who are suffering, sometimes it causes other people to suffer too. Practicing detachment is important to attain happiness. If I don’t detach myself from my mother’s material possessions, it will be difficult for me to move on with my life and life waits for nobody.
Memories live in our head, not in things.
Suffering also comes from being attached to our emotions. I looked at the things my mother had and I felt a profound sadness. She just left this world so suddenly that it caught me off-guard. I kept thinking, “Is this real? How could this happen? She was fine.”
The more I thought of it, the longer I felt sad. The longer I felt sad, the more I became attached to my sadness. Attachment to emotion is like a black hole. It will suck you in if you’re not careful and you’ll never see light again.
A friend of mine once told me, “But you only live once and life is about feeling and experiencing life to the fullest! How can you do that if you detach yourself?” I thought about it and I spent some time thinking about it. I got a little confused at the time because I knew that detachment leads to happiness but my friend also has a point.
Then I came across a passage in Tuesdays with Morrie that cleared my confusion:
But detachment doesn’t mean you don’t let the experience penetrate you. On the contrary, you let it penetrate you fully. That’s how you are able to leave it.
Detachment doesn’t mean we’re not acknowledging our feelings. It just means we understand that a feeling is just a feeling, which is a part of life, which we have to go through because life is all about experiencing and feeling. Detachment doesn’t mean you don’t feel emotions. It just means you let it in and then you let it out. You don’t hold it inside you. You let it pass.
It took me a while to comprehend all of these and I had to go through some painful times before I finally got it. I donated a lot of my mother’s things. I can’t tell you how happy I am that even after her death, she’s still doing something good for the world. She would be happy too. She was a very charitable woman who was always ready to help people in need and anyone who knows her will tell you the same thing.
The wardrobe is now half empty. But all the memories remain complete and whole.