A Box of Memories

by | Jan 27, 2022

It was just an ordinary Monday in January, freezing and icy outside. I was feeling sad and a little lonely (perhaps the January blahs) after all the excitement and connection with friends and family that I had so enjoyed during this past Christmas season. I decided to go down to my storage room and organize the Christmas decorations I had just plopped on the floor of my unit.

I noticed a stray white box high in a shelf in the back of my storage unit. It was marked in bold letters,  FUNERAL. I had seen it before and assumed it was probably full of sympathy cards from my parent’s  funerals – Mom in 1983, Dad in 1986. But today, since I had no pressing agenda,  I took the box back to my apartment thinking I should go through it, read the cards once more, and discard the contents –  part of my agenda to live more simply with less “stuff.”

Opening the box, which to my surprise was not full of sympathy cards, I first saw a crumpled typewritten copy of the heartfelt remembrances Mark, my oldest son, shared at his Grandfather’s funeral service. A week before my Dad‘s funeral Mark had returned from a three-year stint in Zaire Africa with the Peace corps. He began his remarks saying how fortunate he was to have spent quality time with his Grandpa before his sudden death.

Reading his remarks now, decades later, I had a new realization of just what a grace it was that Mark, the first and much doted-on grandchild, had that time with his Grandpa. There  were more blessings as I worked my way through the box:

  • The Worship Aid which contained the order of service and all the hymns we had chosen. My dad‘s favorites were “On Eagles Wings” and “Ave Maria.”
  • Typed copies of readings and prayers which were obviously prepared to be read by my three other children. Each page was well-spaced large print and the words SLOW! LOOKUP! were strategically placed along the margins to aid their oral presentations.
  • Many leftover memorial cards with a picture of my Dad and the phrase, “I Came to Believe.”
  • Hand-written letters of comfort and care – some sharing a little story about my Dad – from people I knew and people I didn’t know who had taken the trouble to write to me – his only child!

After this precious time of reading and remembering, I noticed a small manila envelope marked:

          HANDLE. WITH. CARE.

               JEWELRY. OF

           Bernard Umhoefer

Even before I opened the envelope I felt a hopeful expectancy of what I might find. MY FATHER’S… RING!  For as long as I can remember my Father always wore this cameo ring. It was as much a part of him as his kind brown eyes. I had been so disappointed after the funeral when we couldn’t find the ring. I finally assumed it was probably buried with him.

I slipped the ring on my finger and studied it. I was stunned by my reaction. It felt like a reunion with my Dad. It amazes me that this material thing, a ring, could evoke such a flood of memories. I felt the need to tell someone. I had to share this experience. I grab my cell phone to text my daughter Mary Kay who had been very close to my Dad:

 KAY: I have had an incredible afternoon –  went through a box I pulled out of my storage marked “funeral” and found it was filled up with all kinds of stuff about Grandpa, but the exciting thing was his ring was in the box! I’ve always wondered what happened to that ring do you remember it?

MARY KAY: Oh my! I remember that ring so well. I just remember looking at it as a little kid and wondering what it meant – don’t know why I never asked.

That was a question. I wonder why my Dad, a simple man with simple taste wore a ring. Why did I never ask? Why did I finally find this box with this  ring at this time of my life?

Like the woman in the parable of the last coin (Luke 15:8–12) I was filled with joy in finding something precious to me that I thought was lost. But it was not only the ring – it was a whole box of memories, memories of a time so long ago when I was plainly too BUSY to take it all in and now, they come rushing back as a litany of remembrance.

I find a consoling description of this type of experience in the writings of author Frederick Buechner in his book, A ROOM CALLED REMEMBER:

“We need from time to time to enter into that still room within us all where the past lives on as part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to the long journeys of our lives –  and to where our journeys have brought us. We need to remember our purpose. It means not picking up a book for once or turning on the TV, but letting the mind journey deliberately, back through the years that have gone by but are not gone. It means a deeper slower kind of remembering: it means remembering as a searching and finding. The room is there for all of us to enter if we choose to, and the process of entering it is not unlike the process of PRAYING because  praying too, is a slow grave journey –  a search to find the truth of our own lives at their deepest and dearest, a search to understand, to hear and be heard. Then we will find, beyond any feelings of joy or regret that one by one the memories give rise to, a profound peace, a sense that ALL. IS. WELL.”