When a blessing becomes a burden


By Marianne Delorey

My grandmother was a crafter and a collector. She hand-braided rugs, created beautiful decoupage, quilted, and probably had her hand in many, many other crafts. She also collected antiques. Her house was full of interesting knick-knacks – a spinning wheel, mahogany bedroom set, bookcases full of hair receivers, hat pins, and various and sundry other prizes.

When she died, my grandmother left a house full of treasures for her family to go through. I consider myself lucky. I inherited the hair receiver collection and many half-finished quilts. I had already been given many pieces of decoupage over the years, too. After the dust settled, however, I thought back on what I received and how I relate to these things today. Here is what I learned.

The half-made quilts were a treasure at first. I finished two of them and gave them to my brothers as a memento. I know one brother’s dog ate one quilt and I haven’t seen the other quilt in years. I assume it is gone. There is one other half-made quilt that I intend to finish for myself.  But right now, and for the last almost 20 years, it has remained a project, and a psychological burden. This doesn’t mean that I won’t eventually finish it and love the quilt, but even if I do, it has offered me more discomfort in the 20 years since she died than it can possibly offer joy in my remaining years.

The hair receivers were my pride and joy. I loved them, I displayed them, and then I had kids.  They sit in storage now, boxed up and unappreciated. Maybe I will get them out one day. But they will require dusting. I love going to antique stores and seeing them. I love that they are somewhat unusual and not everyone knows what they are. I love having the connection with my grandmother of someone who can appreciate an old item. But in reality, I would have been just as happy with one as I am with the whole collection.

The decoupage still reminds me of her, but I have none of it hanging in my house. I’m not quite sure why, maybe it just doesn’t go with the other *ahem* art on the wall. When I take it out and look at it, I do marvel at how creative she was. I wish I had learned more from her. But the decoupage itself is not as appreciated as I would think.

Now, when the house was being cleaned out, my cousin, Paul, asked for one, old, broken item.  The rest of us did not think of it because it had no actual value. But all of us, upon hearing that he received it, felt a pang. THAT was the piece that mattered. It was an old cookie jar. Since it had been broken and re-glued, he never has to worry about accidentally breaking it. And that was what we remembered the most – going to Grammy’s house meant we could get a treat. Sometimes just being with Grammy was a treat. And that cookie jar was the ultimate symbol of Grammy’s affection.

A few years ago, I found the same style cookie jar on eBay. I bought it and gave it to my brother. I have a sweet picture of his youngest son eating cookies right out of that jar. And that picture means more now than all the other stuff I inherited.

My advice to people who are looking to downsize or give away prized items to family members is to think twice about saving special heirlooms for after you pass. They can be a burden to the family, who hold on to items that aren’t needed or wanted out of sentimental and guilt value. Give them a cookie jar – something that can be broken or thrown away if needed.  Give them something that holds all the memories you need. Tell them a story and give them a picture of the item. If you must, give them the item, but also give them permission to throw it away.


Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or mdelorey@colonyretirement.com and www.colonyretirementhomes.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com