A couple of years ago, my uncle decided he had had enough of winters and keeping up a three-bedroom house, so he moved to a condo in Arizona. As he downsized his house, one of the items that was rehomed to our place was a steamer trunk in which my grandmother had kept her clothes when she immigrated to America.
Inside, we found a few old newspaper clippings, some photos, and a couple dozen doilies that she had crocheted. Now, honestly, these are amazingly beautiful examples of textile art, but doilies aren’t really our decorating style.
As I tried to decide what to do with them, Kelly reminded me that I could keep them all. But he added that one day I’d be gone, and the boys and their wives would have to deal with all these doilies — and they had no connection to my grandmother at all.
I was reminded of this conversation after stumbling across a reality television show called The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. In the show, a therapist, an organizer, and designer, all from Sweden, help a person declutter their home so when they pass, it’s easier on their loved ones.
There are certainly items that all parents leave their kids that have special meaning — a ring, a teapot, whatever. But there are also many mementos from parents’ lives about which kids have no understanding. And I think that may be especially true for LGBTQ+ parents.
When we’re gone, will our boys, their wives, and their children look at the silver platter engraved with three dates and recognize the significance? Will they understand that those dates correspond to the dates when their dads got married – the latest one being the marriage that finally “stuck”? Will they recognize the historical significance of the second date, March 11, 2004?
It was on that date that we were among the last handful of couples legally married in San Francisco after then-Mayor Gavin Newsome legalized it. Less than an hour later, the California Supreme Court halted any further marriages. Their dads were a part of history. Actually, so was a 10-month-old baby, Gus, whose image was broadcast around the globe as he was carried by his newly wedded dads down the grand staircase of City Hall.
Will they want to save the clipping from a San Francisco gay newspaper with a photo of their much younger dad protesting then-President Bill Clinton’s decision to sign the Defense of Marriage Act, or will it be tossed into the recycling bin? And speaking of gay newspapers, will they save 14 years’ worth of QSaltLake magazines in which this column has appeared?
Kids may well know why a parent has saved something but also be clueless about its significance. Sure, a platter with some dates on it reminds the boys it took their parents a couple of tries to make their relationship legal, but it is also a symbol of their grandparents’ acceptance and love for their fathers — tragically, that isn’t true for everyone. It’s also a reminder that the two lame guys they called “Papa” and “Dad” were willing to take to the streets to demand equality.
In the end, I kept a handful of those doilies and gave the remaining pieces to my mom — fully aware that I had only postponed a final decision on what to do with the rest of my grandmother’s artwork. For me, they are a small physical reminder of the love I felt from an amazing woman who encouraged me to be myself. And I’m certain the Swedish death cleaners would agree.