What You Leave Behind

December 5, 2012

By Gabrielle.

As I mentioned, I’ve had two grandmothers pass away in the last few months. And my aunts and uncles have bravely taken on the always challenging task of sorting through cupboards and boxes and deciding what should be kept and what should be donated (or just plain tossed).

When going through my Grandma Lucille’s things, my aunts and uncles realized that she’d planned for this task. In each carefully packed box, she left a little something to entertain them! A little figurine or random Christmas ornament. Anything she thought might make them laugh.

Isn’t that fantastic? I can picture her giggling as she packed things up.

It makes me hope for two things: One, that I have a long life with enough winding-down years that I can prep my belongings for my kids. And two, that I’ll remember to leave happy surprises any time I have an opportunity.

What’s your take — does the story make you smile, or is the idea of thinking about one’s own mortality too morbid?

P.S. — It didn’t occur to me until I saw this photo, but I bet I got my curls from Grandma Lucille.

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1 Bets December 5, 2012 at 9:12 am

I love this story. My grandmother is in her 90′s and has been giving things to family members that they know that they will love and appreciate.


2 Design Mom December 5, 2012 at 9:47 am

I love that. I think it would be dreamy to be able to give it all away while you’re still aware.


3 Angie December 5, 2012 at 9:14 am

I think little surprises is a great idea!

My mom tends to tuck a note in the box to explain where the items came from or what the special meaning is.


4 Becca F December 5, 2012 at 9:25 am

What a sweet grandma!


5 Abbie December 5, 2012 at 9:31 am

So sweet. And, I think your sister Jordan looks just like your grandma.


6 Design Mom December 5, 2012 at 9:46 am

Totally. I think it’s the eyes.


7 Corrie Anne December 5, 2012 at 9:31 am

That’s so beautiful!!! I would love to do that someday if I had the opportunity.


8 Melissa December 5, 2012 at 9:50 am

I love that! It would make the otherwise daunting and sad task of going through everything so much more fun!!


9 becky December 5, 2012 at 9:54 am

this made me smile. i’ve always called my grandmother a “hoarder of memories” and when i took care of her during the last stages of alzheimers, it left me with many quiet hours to slowly get her house ready for the inevitable – and while it took two dumpsters to get rid of the misc. of a long ranch life (ie: every card her insurance agent had ever sent her carefully packed away)…it was such a gift to us. on the other side is my 91 one year old little widow of a grandmother who has outlived her husband by 30 years and doesn’t get the point of it all anymore (in a really cute sarcastic way). i keep telling her that she’s not helping her case by still walking 3 miles a day and eating oatmeal and oranges for every meal. but, in the vein of being ready to be back with her long lost love, she has been sorting and every time i visit she tucks a new packet of goodies into my hands and when i try to give them back she always says, “i’m old and i’ll be dead soon (in her dreams – she’s living to a 113). what’s a dead old lady going to do with a bunch of pictures”…and when i try to tell her that i’ll scan them and distribute them accordingly with the rest of the family, she waves me off with a scoff and turns back to her mystery novel as she says, “whatever. whatever. i don’t care what you do with them. i’m dead soon and that’s all that matters”…

so, no. nothing morbid at all about preparing for the end. like my crazy little almost-not-nearly-close-to-dead grandmother says, “getting old has to be hard. because these bodies are so amazing, that we would never let them go. our spirits would just hold on forever if it could – life is too good. our bodies falling apart, it’s the process – your body falls apart so your spirit can let go. you’re ready when you can’t stand being in your own skin anymore.”

i think these discussions and reconnecting with the process of death and dying is essential in this modern, sterile age of medicine and lifestyle. and connecting with this process will help us when our time comes.

sorry to be verbose – i just feel so full of lovely feelings for my little grannies and everything i’ve learned from watching them take these last steps through their final years.


10 Elizabeth December 5, 2012 at 11:07 am

I have read your grandmother’s quote several times now, it gives me such goosebumps. Thank you for sharing that.


11 Sara @ What About Sara December 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm

I agree, Elizabeth – goosebumps!! Thanks for sharing, Becky.


12 Teresa December 5, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Here too, love that quote from your grandmother. I’m always amazed by the wisdom only attained by growing older. Thank you for sharing with us!


13 sabrina December 5, 2012 at 1:41 pm

I have read it many times too. very wise. you’re very lucky to have her for an example. she sounds wonderful!


14 christina December 5, 2012 at 1:53 pm



15 Design Mom December 5, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Thank you so much for this comment. I think I love your grandmother.


16 Jenni Bailey December 5, 2012 at 10:08 am

I love this! After my grandfather passed away earlier this year, my grandmother started sorting through and passing things along. My daughter now has the beginnings of a beautiful matroyshka collection and knowing where each one came from is endlessly valuable. The winding down of her life is sad but the way she is approaching it is sweet as can be.


17 Crystal December 5, 2012 at 10:12 am

I love it and think what great fun to choose that quirkly little item to give everyone a laugh when they need it the most.


18 Anita December 5, 2012 at 10:38 am

Very cute and ingenious of your grandmother. She left her mark, a smile on their faces instead of sadness. Thanks for posting this story!


19 aimee @ smilingmama December 5, 2012 at 10:56 am

Love this! After my maternal grandparents died, my cousins and I unearthed a box of love letters they had sent each other during WWII. We were stunned at how romantic they were! That was a wonderful surprise.


20 Design Mom December 5, 2012 at 2:47 pm

What a treasure, Aimee! I’m sure your heart skipped a beat at the discovery.


21 Alana December 5, 2012 at 10:58 am

I would imagine only a person with a life well lived and a happiness of spirit could think to do such a fantastic thing. I can only hope that I feel so fulfilled when the time comes to go out with a giggle.


22 katharine December 5, 2012 at 11:08 am

I am a grandmother and am trying to sort through stuff for my son and daughter in law. Having to do that for my brother who died last year was bittersweet and melancholy. The things I saved I hold dear along with my memories. A lot of the art I am doing relates to him,
By the way, I immediately saw the resemblance between you and your grandmother in the photo!


23 Helena December 5, 2012 at 11:56 am

That is so great – what a fun, loving gesture!

I’ve thought about my own funeral (morbid?) and I want to plan something secret like a pizza party where I’ve already made a deposit or something…. like “Surprise! Let’s have fun!”


24 Design Mom December 5, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Oh my goodness. That has my imagination spinning.


25 Wendy December 5, 2012 at 12:00 pm

I think you got more than curls from your grandmother!
My grandmother tagged her belongings with the name of who she wanted it to go to. I think this started not long after my grandfather died, about 2+ years before my grandmother joined him. My grandmother was a practical woman & would regularly show me where her important papers were “just in case” & she would yell at my father, who joined her for coffee every weekday morning on his way to work, if she wasn’t up when he arrived & he didn’t check on her, “I could be dead up there!” I remember going through her things after she was gone & coming across one thing after another that had someone’s name on it. It filled my heart to know she had been thinking of all of us as she prepared to leave.
I think the things she left me with that I value most are: being able to pull myself up out of a sad place to do what needs to be done, to be able to “make do” with what I have and an appreciation of the smell of garden dirt & how plants complete a home.


26 Sara @ What About Sara December 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Such a touching story! I know that when my mom’s parents passed away rather suddenly (each within a year), it was such a chore to go through all of their many belongings. She would so have appreciated a little touch of something to make her smile!


27 Renae December 5, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Love this. So much. Several years ago my grandparents bought their plots and had a headstone prepared. They asked if anyone wanted to go with them to check it out. For understandable reasons, none of my aunts wanted to go. But I went along, and I’m so glad I did. My grandpa has since died, but when I think of him, I remember the time I got to stand with him alive. It is a sweet memory.


28 Design Mom December 5, 2012 at 2:50 pm

This story made me a bit weepy. So sweet!


29 Bridget December 5, 2012 at 12:14 pm

My grandparents made the very conscious decision when I was about 9 to go through everything in their possession and make lists of where it would go when to whom. (I was really confused about this at the time, all my uncles were in town and we weren’t going to see them? Mom, you make no sense!). But it became a way for them to realize what parts of their life were the most important to each of their children and grandchildren, and start giving the gifts as they transitioned to different housing, before they passed away. It gave them the gift of joy of seeing that piece go to someone who would love it.


30 marian December 5, 2012 at 12:17 pm

I think it is sweet and thoughtful any time someone tried to make their own passing, easier for those they love.


31 Louise December 5, 2012 at 12:21 pm

I bet you got your happy outlook and creative genius from Grandma Lucille, too. As soon as I read about her leaving ornaments I thought, that’s so Design Mom!


32 Megan M. December 5, 2012 at 1:30 pm

That is really sweet and I hope I remember/am able to do something like that for my girls.


33 Teresa December 5, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Love this story. I hope I have the chance to do something similar (many many years from now!). :) Thanks for sharing!


34 Jess December 5, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I think that’s such a lovely idea! I recently read a study from here in the UK (done during the 70s, things have improved!), where 80% of the terminally ill respondents to the survey knew they were dying and wanted to talk about it. 80% of their doctors assumed they didn’t know, and thought they shouldn’t be told.


35 Design Mom December 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm

That is fascinating, Jess! Those are crazy numbers. I’m glad things have improved. : )


36 amy c December 5, 2012 at 2:13 pm

How sweet! I love that idea of packing up boxes with something inside to make a loved one chuckle. My still-living grandma gave me a silver ring holder in the shape of a cat, cats being something I loved as a child. On the bottom it said: For Amy, the lover of cats, when I die. She gave it to me a few years ago and I cried when I read the label. The thought of her or my grandpa being gone is unthinkable.
Facing mortality is sad and scary but it’s inevitable. I would rather take it head on than pretend it’s not going to happen. As your grandma proved, it can still be joyful, a remembrance of a life well lived.


37 Design Mom December 5, 2012 at 2:52 pm

I would have cried too!


38 Lynda December 5, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Thank you for making me smile. I love that Grandma Lucille had a sense of humor and was at peace with having lived a full life and being ready to move on. I want to be like that!


39 amberlee December 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm

reading this completely made my day. what a lovely woman and what a wonderful thing to do.


40 Nicole December 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I love this.
But reading through the comments above I thought it important to remind everyone “don’t wait”. I was in a terrible car crash almost 5 years ago and it definitely woke me up. The old are not the only ones who die.
Tell everyone you love “I love you”. Tell everyone you’ve wronged “I’m sorry”. Make every day your best, because you are not guaranteed tomorrow.


41 Pinoncoffee December 5, 2012 at 4:39 pm

I love these stories about awesome grandmas. I hope to be one someday. :-) It’s really precious to hear about people dying well.

On a more prosaic note, before you start tagging things for your heirs, you ought to clear it with your estate lawyer. Depending on your state’s laws, that could mess up probate and leave a big legal fight for your kids to deal with – yikes! And while I’m on the subject, friends don’t let friends use will forms off the internet. Just… no.


42 smee December 5, 2012 at 4:48 pm

My Dad just passed away a few months ago. As I stayed with him the last few months I gained tremendous blessings, forgiveness, compassion, some too sacred to mention, and above all else a true belief in an afterlife. He had been unable to communicate for a few weeks, two days before he passed, he awoke to find me at the foot of his bed and gave me a look that I completely understood, I just looked back at him and said, “I got it dad, I understand.” He fell back asleep. The day before he passed I watched as he woke up, still unable to communicate and seemingly looking through anyone who was in the room. However those moments when he awoke, he would look about three feet above the foot of the bed, then, as if completely surprised, he would reach out in front of himself, smile as big as I’d ever seen him smile and almost giggle, arms raised for a few minutes until he would sleep again. He did this about every 20 minutes or so for hours, always waking to such a happy surprise. *I* believe he was being greeted by folks he hadn’t seen in years. Call me kooky, but it’s totally what it felt like to me.

His illness was sudden and his death came over a four month period, fast and unannounced. Going through his things, and my mothers, has been bitter sweet, so many things I wish I could have asked.

So, because of this experience, my husband I have talked considerably about what we wish, choose, and just how to go about our exit. I do not fear death at all after being with my dad during his. So for me, I want to make it as pleasant and simple an experience as I can for my children. I plan on giving them my things early, so I can watch them enjoy whatever.

Life after death? sure. Life before death- count on it!


43 Amber, theAmberShow December 5, 2012 at 7:16 pm

June looks just like her!


44 Miss Lindsey D December 5, 2012 at 7:45 pm

This really really touched me. I unfortunately had to go through my Mom’s belongings not too long ago and taken at a young age she’d had no time to prepare. The thing that got me through was laughing at some of the silly things she kept, like an entire drawer of nylons, and being touched by how many things I’d given her that she saved. I love the idea of making what can be such a tough task a little bit brighter for those you love. I think the whole thing is so beautiful, to still make them smile!


45 Anneliese December 5, 2012 at 11:21 pm

I love your wishes! To be well long enough to organize it all for smiling. What a sweet story. I am a little obsessed with family geneaology right now…we have a Grandma Lucille too…and I love thinking about what genes have come through the different generations.


46 Lisa December 5, 2012 at 11:34 pm

What a beautiful thing to do … thank you for sharing this!


47 Melissa@Julia's Bookbag December 6, 2012 at 12:04 am

What a family resemblance! For a second, I thought it was a retro-style picture of you or Jordan!


48 Arika December 6, 2012 at 1:23 am

This story made me smile. And I think you got more than curls from her! You look very similar!


49 Jennifer December 6, 2012 at 5:03 am



50 Kari December 6, 2012 at 6:21 am

What a wonderful story! I love that she left behind little trinkets for her loved ones to come across.


51 Lisa | Happy By December 8, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Considering how much emotionally attached I am to stuff and memories and how much I love giving gifts and surprising people, I guess I’d do the same if I felt my end is coming. It takes great courage and a heart full of kindness and altruism to do this though. What a wonderful thing to do for your loved ones and also for yourself, a sure way to be remembered for a long time even if you are not amongst them. This post bring tears and smile in my eyes at the same time :)


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