More Than Just a Teapot: The Items That Connect Past and Present

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Eleanor Haley

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The acorn necklace my sister, Jessie, gave me the Christmas after my mom died is in this twisted, tangled mess of silver chains and baubles. It’s the same kind of necklace my mother wore when she was sick. At that time, she told us that the acorn stood for strength—but acorns had been special to her long before she identified with their symbolism. I remember acorn ornaments hanging on the Christmas tree and stories of how my dad used to collect acorns and bring them to my mother when they were dating. To be honest, I don’t personally understand the fascination, but—because they were special to my mother—they are special to me.

One would hardly assume I cared about this messy nest of jewelry. They certainly wouldn’t assume that, every once in awhile when I need a dose of strength or sentimentality, I untangle one particular necklace and wear it close to my heart.

mess of jewelry

This is the “Where’s Mom Now that I Need Her” book my mother gave me when I moved away from home for the first time. The title of this book didn’t seem quite as taunting when she gave it to me. The tattered book is usually found stacked up with cookbooks containing vegetarian recipes, tips on clean eating, and ready-made meals. Anyone who noticed this book in my collection might wonder why I continue to hold onto such a relic, but my mother gave it to me and so I can’t part with it.

"Where's Mom Now that I Need Her" book

In fact, tucked in between the pages of this guide to “surviving away from home” are several folded up sheets of yellow ledger paper, the kind my mother was famous for writing on. These delicate pages contain the recipes of some of my mother’s favorite recipes, most of which I have memorized (“Blushing Bunny” = Tomato Soup + Velveeta + Milk; Egg Salad = Eggs + Mustard + Miracle Whip + Celery + Vinegar + A Pinch of Salt, Pepper, and Sugar). Still, every so often, I pull the pages out to look at her writing and think: “She wrote these words down for me.”

mom's recipes on yellow ledger paper

Here is the vacuum cleaner my mother bought me the last Christmas we spent together. My husband has had to fix it a number of times and I’m told that they’ve made many advancements in vacuum cleaner technology, but my mother swore by the Oreck and—10 years later—it’s still chugging along.

oreck vacuum cleaner

Here is my china cabinet, with treasures that span several generations. I inherited many of these items after my family sold my grandmother’s house in 2010. Her house always had a certain elegance and enchantment, and so did many of her belongings. It now makes me smile to see so many of her things mixed in among my own wedding china and other trinkets.

china cabinet
teacup and teapot

I only wish that my grandmother were here to tell my daughters about the history of these objects. Who did she have tea with and who did she dine with?

An object’s history is unknown to most who see it. To them, the item they are looking at is just a book or just a plate, just a necklace or just a piece of furniture. But to the owner of the treasure, and to those who understand its context and life story, these items are the threads, glue, and nails that bind the past to the present. They are silent connections, tributes, and reminders that blend our loved one’s past lives with our own life in the present. Like Pinocchio and the Velveteen Rabbit, they are made real, alive, or spiritual because someone who matters (to you or to many) looked upon them, touched them, created them, or treasured them.

Most people have at least one thing they remember their close loved ones by, whether that person died at the age of 85 or 1. These items may be small trinkets, antique treasures, old notes, oddities, or worn down vacuum cleaners. Litsa and I would really love to know more about your objects and the stories behind them. In the spirit of normalizing and sharing through photographs and stories—and because we find the life stories of objects to be simply fascinating, we’re asking for people to share a photograph of their object and the story behind it. We’re simply interested in starting a dialogue about objects; however, if enough people share, we may follow up to request permission to compile the objects into a larger project to help inspire, educate, and support others. You can share on Facebook, Instagram, or by emailing


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14 Comments on "More Than Just a Teapot: The Items That Connect Past and Present"

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  1. luca  December 12, 2021 at 5:01 am Reply

    my best friend passed away two years ago. he used to love learning card tricks the months leading up to when he got hospitalised. even when he couldn’t mess around as often once he was admitted into the hospital, every time i visited him, he would go through the entire stupid routine of “oh, is this is card you were thinking of?” and we would all humor him even if the cards he showed us were wrong. the last time i visited him was near the end of summer break, and i wouldn’t have been able to visit him again anytime soon because of school. we went through his usual routine and he actually guessed my card right, the answer being the five of spades. i don’t know if he knew himself that we probably wouldn’t be able to speak face-to-face in a long time, but he told me to keep the card. he passed away less than a week later, and i remember hearing about it when i came home from school. i kept that card in the back of student id at first, then the back of my phone case. sometimes i like to think that he’s getting to see a bit of my current life through the card, and that we’re still hanging out like we used to.

  2. Kathy Butler  November 29, 2018 at 4:32 pm Reply

    My husband spent several weeks, the last weeks of his life, in a hospital hospice because he was too sick to come home again. He insisted on putting on his gray slacks and suspenders, however, right over his hospital gown, to walk around the ward and pray for people (“so maybe they’ll pray for me, too”). After my husband died, my son moved me very quickly out of the house and away across the country to live with his family (he had promised us that if either of us were left alone, that is what he intended to do). Many of my treasured objects didn’t survive the trip. But the gray slacks he wore in the hospital sleep in my bed with me–and when I can’t stand it anymore I breath into those gray slacks–and somehow my grief subsides a little. I will never part with those slacks–and probably never wash them!

    • Marianne Guzzardo  March 5, 2019 at 4:33 am Reply

      I understand and you are blessed to have family who cares so much for you. He was my only child.
      I lost my son aged 31 in April, it hasn’t been a year and I’m so down and grieving terribly.
      I try to avoid his clothes as they evoke such deep emotion..really deep, but sometimes I just walk over to this jacket his mom-mom (my mom now deceased bought him) and smell it hug it he adored her so it means a lot to me..I put that wool coat on to feel him I miss him so much.
      We just loved so deeply is what we did with the one we lost.
      I pray one day at my age 62 now I will be able to sleep normally and think clear again.
      God Bless you and all of those here who’ve lost your beloved one.
      Your story was so touching.
      [I’m a hospice nurse BTW].
      God Bless, Marianne Guzzardo

  3. Kevin  June 18, 2018 at 7:48 am Reply

    It’s almost as if this was written for me. My grandmother died 23 years ago this month. She and I were born the same day, March 9. We were very close. She came to live with us for the last nine months of her life. My then girlfriend, now wife, changed her diapers, fed her, helped her ambulate. The intimate care required with a sick, elderly person intensified the bond.

    When her apartment was taken down, I got one of my grandmother’s prized possessions, a mahogany pedestal. It was something my grandmother bought herself, something she made payments on to buy. My grandmother had a habit of discarding things. Somehow she kept the pedestal for many years.

    My grandmother had a thing for artificial flowers. She had great bouquets of them everywhere in her apartment, in wildly mismatched colors. It was enough to make one’s eyeballs bleed. She had a particularly large bouquet she kept her pedestal, in a clay vase with a dragon theme. While I retained the vase, I felt no sentimental urge to retain the artificial flowers.

    The wife and I bought our first home a year ago. One of the first things we moved in and placed was my grandmother’s pedestal. I didn’t put the clay vase on the pedestal and fill it with artificial flowers. I wasn’t trying to recreate my grandmother. Instead the wife and I purchased a large pre- Columbian reproduction of a nude male and placed him atop the pedestal.

    My grandmother would have hated that. She was born in 1903 and in some ways she was very much a product of her era. Nudity wasn’t discussed and certainly never seen. I sometimes wonder how she managed to conceive five children. When I see what I refer to as the naked guy on the pedestal I remember not only that aspect of her with some amusement, but also in a larger sense an era that is long since gone.

    I placed the clay vase on the floor adjacent to the pedestal. From an esthetic sense the curves of the clay vase play well against the very angular form of the pedestal. More importantly, it’s a quiet little tribute to my grandmother, something only she and I would get.

  4. Mary  September 3, 2017 at 7:12 am Reply

    I have always treasured the solid oak dresser that belonged to my mother’s grandmother, but even more the note about who it belonged to, handwritten by my mother. I keep the note in the back of the top drawer…I think sometimes what will happen to the dresser when I all live far away, have no room. I have pearl necklaces that belonged to my grandmothers. I loaned one to my daughter to wear on her wedding day. Mom understood it was important for me to have these. That is why these things are important to me..the tangible presence of the women who came before me. My history.

  5. Elizabeth  September 1, 2017 at 2:02 pm Reply

    My husband died 2 years ago. I still have gravy that he made from scratch in the freezer that I can’t imagine getting rid of, and leftover coq au vin that I made for him shortly before he went into the hospital. He had a bone marrow transplant that didn’t work, and died on day 31 of the transplant.
    He’s everywhere in our home, we were married for 33 years. When the grief gets too bad and out of control I wrap myself in his robe and cry it out. I’ve donated and given away some of his clothes, but his robe is something I’ll keep the rest of my life.

  6. Mary  September 1, 2017 at 1:01 pm Reply

    My husband died 7 months ago and I still have his rumbling giant Tundra truck. Every time I hear a similar engine, I still look, even though I know it’s not him. I plan to sell it but have been finding all sorts of reasons not to. I also have his cologne that I occasionally spray that reminds me of the way he would come and crush me in a hug while saying, “Do I smell good Honey?”

  7. Trudy  August 1, 2016 at 7:51 pm Reply

    Hi John. I believe It is never too long to wait before we move someones belongings, we need those items around until we are ready for them to be gone..time is the only gauge of this perhaps the washing could be dealt with but the rest of the things we see around us the clothing the possessions they were also part of your everyday life and if we move them when we are not ready we simply make a bigger gap. It is not like people say ‘holding onto things is unhealthy’ NO boxing someones life-part of your life -up before you are finished looking at it is unhealthy. I have lost 3 of my children at young ages and survived very well and healthily and have learned this.. Take your time in all that you do as this is your grief and there are no rules you should follow 🙂 I totally love your idea of the sun catchers. My son of course didn’t have ample jewellery but you have given me an idea, to make a sun catcher or mobile with his treasures.Take care

  8. John  July 20, 2016 at 5:08 pm Reply

    I may be too new to this to give it proper perspective, I lost my wife seventeen weeks ago today. The nights are long and lonely once our youngest is put to bed. I have made a set of sun catchers incorporating some of her jewellery, five of them so far follow a theme, one to hang in a yew tree near her, one for home, her mum’s home and one for her mum’s car, and one for a very close friend. Aside from that, all her clothes and things are where she left them, even her laundry. I can’t bare to move them, like I want her to come and deal with it herself. Everything becomes sacred, even to her favourite spot on the sofa.

  9. Trudy New Zealand  July 20, 2016 at 5:04 pm Reply

    My pokadot teapot from Edinburgh.
    My boys and I would always have a pot of tea, odd in itself for staunch teenage boys to do but a routine never the less, and we would sit and talk with no TV or anything on, just interact and share the time. A couple of one sons teenage friends (only those he treasured that would not laugh at the ‘feminine’ ritual) would sit and have a pot of tea with us also. I remember vividly my 16year old coming in the door one day and saying “I need a pot of tea” the other teenager jumped up turned the TV off and started setting up the tea tray which was made by one son at woodwork, with cups and saucers milk jug etc. The boys had taken it on as a way to debrief bring up any issues from the day in a calm open forum…what a treasure we had stumbled upon. I went overseas working with a Tetraplegic we were travelling light and my only desire was to buy a lovely large teapot while away on my travels. I looked in Antique shops flea markets and op shops but nothing attracted me.
    When in Scotland I saw a large black teapot with white pokadots. Awesome. The rest of my journey was geared around ensuring I had enough room on carryon luggage to ensure I got this teapot home without damage- along with an antique strainer I had purchased. My 17year old boy died 3 years ago but this ritual we had will be remembered always. So if you have a ritual no matter how silly you think it is, see if you are able to fit a specifically selected item into the ritual so your family can look at it in later years and say “I remember when…”

    • Alison  August 19, 2016 at 7:20 pm Reply

      What a beautiful story, thank you for sharing.

  10. Anna  July 20, 2016 at 11:46 am Reply

    I like the idea of having a special wooden chest to keep all my particular memorabilia in. That way I can keep my letters in there that I wrote to her also. It becomes a sacred place for me where I know I can always open the chest and reconnect and refeel the memories.

  11. DJ  July 19, 2016 at 6:34 pm Reply

    Am looking forward to reading the full article.Thank-you so much for this article.It really strikes a cord with me and I am sure with so many people.I lost my mother almost 2 years ago.She was 91 so was not a tradgedy but she was told she had 2 to 3 months to live from cancer so was not the best way.I wish she had just passed in her sleep but ofcourse we do not get to choose the way we pass.I am having trouble to give away anything that was tied to my mother or in her apartment.Some items are especially sentimental so am trying to see with time what I value the most.It can be something very small like a playbill from a musical we attended together to her clothes which I remember shopping for together or we got a real good deal on at Bay Day,(a monthly sale for seniors).Her jewellery I am keeping in a safe place to go through later.I have 2 brothers who were also very close to my mother but I find one can get rid of items much more easily than Iand the other is a bit like me but not as much.I know I should donate all or alot of her clothes but am not able to yet and they really bring me comfort as I feel closer to her when seeing them.I have always been quite sentimental but do not want to end up with everyone not understanding why I am not ready to part with items.I do see a therapist so will discuss this with her further but for not I just feel good to keep what I can and was very happy for my brothers to keep any items as well.We did agree to take some large items,a desk she used always to value village and a microwave shelf.Better finish this up but the most precious are her and her mothers wedding rings and some cat knick knacks I keep on my bedside table,also a few jackets she wore that I can wear as well.Will look forward to reading how others respond and your other articles.It is really nice to have your site to express my feelings as I cannot talk with my brothers too much as we grieve differently which is OK but I am definately still more emotional.

    • Yam Kahol  July 20, 2016 at 2:11 am Reply

      Hi DJ, I can feel your love for your mother in your words above. In my opinion, it’s really not a problem to hang onto your loved one’s things when they are gone. I agree with you that we grieve differently, some like to talk a lot, write a lot, cry, walk, be quiet, and I think some need to have physical objects. Or a mixture of these things. 🙂

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