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When Our Parents Die, What Should We Do With Their Possessions?

Bob Morris, author of the new memoir Bobby Wonderful: An Imperfect Son Buries His Parents, has created an online museum for your parents’ things—and he wants your submissions.

Elissa Goldstein
June 26, 2015

What do you do with your parents’ possessions after they die? I don’t mean the big ticket items, like jewelry, art, or property. I’m talking about the small, inconsequential items: a comb, an old CD player, a maybe nubby sweater with the elbows worn out that’s too thin to donate to goodwill. You know, the sorts of things you unearth weeks or months or years after your loved ones have died; each discovery prompting a little shock of grief—and perhaps tenderness.

Now there’s a place to store them, so to speak, online. Author and New York Times contributor Bob Morris has created Museum of Your Parents, a virtual home to memorialize those stray belongings. Right now on the homepage, you’ll find an ode to Morris’s father’s clunky cell phone, which, he writes, had “the only politically incorrect ringtone I’d ever heard.” You’ll also find a stainless steel “distress bowl,” a magenta sweater, and a “thinking cap,” which all once belonged to a few beloved mothers.

The project grew out of Morris’s new memoir, Bobby Wonderful: An Imperfect Son Buries His Parents, a poignant and often funny account of aging, death, grief, and family dynamics. (Fans may recall the late Joe Morris from the 2009 book Assisted Loving, in which the younger Morris documented their double-dating adventures.) Here’s an illustrated reading of a scene from Bobby Wonderful, where Joe is comforted in hospital by a visiting rabbi:

You can also read an excerpt in the New York Times (full text here):

When we were back at the bedside, a young rabbi stuck his head in to say hello. Dad, who seemed to have lost his faith after watching his wife of 50 years languish and suffer, opened his eyes. “No,” he sighed. “No rabbi.” The rabbi lowered his head and backed away. But Jeff pursued him and brought him into the room.

“What are you doing?” I whispered.

“Let’s let him talk to him,” he said. “What’s the harm?”

I was about to get up and storm out when the rabbi leaned close into my father’s ear.

“There’s a spot of light, Mr. Morris, when we’re born, and it’s a little bit of God,” he told him. “It grows as you become a good son, neighbor, husband, parent and friend and it grows more each time you do a good deed, each time you listen with an open heart.

My father nodded. The white room had become a kind of tent of spiritual revival.

“I want you to imagine your whole life now, Mr. Morris,” the rabbi said as he took his hand. “And for each time you did something good, imagine it as a little glow you left behind that lights a dark road stretching back in time. It’s a long, long road of lights now, isn’t it?”

My father nodded again. Then he smiled. Through my tears I could see his spots of light, shining for all his acts of kindness — taking in strangers for dinner, sending postcards to lonely neighbors, doing free legal work, handing out old tennis rackets and sneakers to kids in municipal parks, showing respect for anyone he met, telling me over and over how proud of me he was. He wasn’t perfect, and he wasn’t the most responsible husband or father. But he did the best he could. His trail of lights was glowing pearly as it receded into the dark.

So, dear readers, we want to know: What are the items that remind you of your parents? The small curiosities and stories you’d like to share? Send a photo and short description to [email protected], and you could win a copy of Morris’s book, Bobby Wonderful—and have your story featured on Museum of Your Parents.

Elissa Goldstein is Tablet’s director of audience development. She also produces Unorthodox. Follow her on Twitter here.