Beaded Handbags Bear Witness

March 5th, 2010

I once helped a couple downsize and prepare to move to a retirement apartment.   They had different feelings about this.  The husband was eager to go, and would enthusiastically greet me every morning when I arrived at their door.  The wife, not so much.  Several mornings she answered the door and greeted me with a disappointed, “oh, it’s you.”  I knew working with her would be a challenge.

First we proceeded through the whole house and designated which large furniture items would be appropriate for them in their new space.  We then had to sort through the rest.  After several days, we were working on a closet in a spare bedroom where we found some small, beaded handbags.  She then told me stories about each purse, and the fun dances she and her husband would attend during their courtship when he returned home from World War II.  She confided that because of the times, her clothes were simple and inexpensive, but her fancy purses made her feel “dolled up” and worthy of the special times they were celebrating at the end of the war.  She was so relieved that he had retured home, when so many others had not.

The next day, she answered the door in the morning and was downright pleasant. As soon as we started working on the piles we organized the day before, she confided in me, “you know, I really dreaded having to go through all this stuff, but I am really enjoying myself now, finding old things and remembering.”  I was glad that she was enjoying the process.  I also felt special that she shared personal stories with me.

I often have two equally important jobs when I work with clients.   One is to help sort through and organize items, and the other is to bear witness to the client’s stories and memories.  With this client, we would find an item, she would tell me its story, and then we would decide the appropriate fate for it.  She enjoyed sharing her memories, and I enjoyed listening to them.  We finished the process sooner than any of us thought.