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Keeping a Connection with a Touchstone

personal touchstone

A touchstone can be any object that represents a special person or significant memory to us. These unique objects may be displayed, kept private or used in everyday life, as a way to keep that memory close.

Keeping every-day items as touchstones

A touchstone is often an ordinary item closely associated with a loved one who has passed on. They are seldom of high value. Instead, their value comes from the memories attached to them. These are items that can be assimilated into our own daily routines: a favorite pen, a walking stick, even a houseplant.

Rebecca spent time every summer at her grandmother’s seaside home in Maine. While emptying this house after her grandmother passed away, the family realized that everyone wanted the very special plastic goose glasses. These glasses evoked memories from childhood Maine with family, birthdays, and sunsets for multiple generations. These were used every morning for orange juice for the kids, then later the adults used them in the ritual of saluting the sunset on the pier with dark and stormies*.  They agreed to split them up, each person getting two. 

Now Rebecca’s family uses them at breakfast every day. They take regular cycles through the dishwasher and have become part of the fabric of her home and daily routine. The photo I used for this post is one of those glasses. Obviously, these have been used often and are still keeping those memories alive.  

*Rebecca will not drink a dark and stormy out any other glass.

Keeping clothing as a touchstone

Many people keep an article of clothing from a deceased loved one, finding comfort in seeing it or even wearing it themselves. Clothing provides a special connection, often reflecting the personality of the wearer and evoking memories. But unlike other objects, clothes retain the essence and often the scent of their owner, making this a powerful touchstone for many.

I worked with a lovely elderly client, Mrs. S., for several years. Mrs. S. had moved from her large home to an assisted living community; and even though she had downsized, her new apartment did not have enough storage for her considerable wardrobe. We saw each other twice a year to swap the spring/summer clothes or fall/winter clothes from storage to her closets.

On our very first session together, we removed as much clothing as possible to create space. One of the items Mrs. S. agreed to let go of was her deceased husbands’ bathrobe, as it was cumbersome and in the way. I could tell it meant a great deal to her, so I put it in the box going to storage. When I returned to Mrs. S. six months later and opened the box, her husband’s bathrobe was the first thing out. She held it in her lap, stroking the flannel as I changed out the clothes. When I was done, she gave it back to me to go back into the box and come out again in six months. We repeated this ritual for over 5 years, and I observed the same effect each time she held his robe.

What objects represent touchstones in your life?

My brother carries my dad’s pocketknife, just like my dad did every day. I wear my grandmother’s wedding ring. My friend keeps the tag from her deceased collie in her desk at work. It’s there every time she reaches in the drawer. You may now recognize that you have a touchstone of your own.

When organizing with a client, I often come across many items that hold special meaning. This is where I work with my clients to decide what to keep. Any given item can be a touchstone; it’s why I ask a lot of questions while clearing a space. A broken watch may look like junk to one person, but it possesses a great deal of meaning to another. What we choose to hold on to is as individual as the memory or person we cherish.

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