In 2015, my second most popular blog post was answering the unusual question, what do you do with your engagement ring? It was a very pertinent question to me at the time, and a rather complex one. My thinking included the questions, ‘What do you do about this once treasured possession when you’re separated? What about divorcing? Are there rules of an ex-engagement ring?’ A few weeks ago someone asked me about what it looked like, which took me by surprise as I never think of it now.
In case you were wondering, I didn’t keep mine. That token spoke of a love that no longer existed, and it became a merely beautiful but now meaningless object. I still have my wedding ring. That isn’t a keepsake so much as an ‘I’m not sure what to do with it’ item, although it’s proving rather handy for this blog post series – I’m still toying with what to do with it once I reach ‘Z’ (suggestions welcome).
Yet there are so many more memory based objects than the engagement and wedding rings. The sheer number of shared possessions and memories can make separation, divorce and moving forward minefield to navigate.
When I moved house, I had the opportunity to get rid of anything that reminded me of my marriage or my ex-husband. And in large part I did: it was a significant downsize so there wasn’t room for as many belongings, and there were some items that I knew I wanted to be rid of; this provided a good moment to do so. In some senses it is now slightly odd to see what was previously ‘ours’ adorning my friends’ homes, but I like that it’s been repurposed. But perhaps the more challenging question I encountered was what to keep?
A keepsake is defined as “a small item kept in memory of the person who gave it or originally owned it.”
Now a memory doesn’t have to be happy. I have several funeral orders of service in my possession: I loved the person but I don’t look back on those particular days with fondness. Associations that bring pain can still be keepsakes, although perhaps it brings freedom to be rid of them.
Do you have to like a person to keep something connected to them? I don’t think so. There are many photos I have of those with whom I’ve lost contact for one reason or another, but the photo serves as a memory. So if, in the words of Little Mix you’ve ‘deleted all your pics’, perhaps it is the memories we’re hoping to erase, rather than the items themselves. Removing the evidence cannot delete a memory or a connection, it simply means we’re not reminded of it again in that way.
Equally, some items simply hadn’t kept a memory. Yes I ‘knew’ they’d been wedding presents or gifts from him, but they didn’t ‘feel’ like that. They’d become things I owned, with no emotional tug or any thought process prompted by using them.
It is perhaps the thesaurus that offers us a better definition. It gives ‘reminder’ and ‘memento’ (or indeed ‘relic’) as synonyms for keepsake. This definition of ‘keepsake’ suggests happy times that once existed, and the possession is there now to jog a memory. Accepting that a failed marriage had happy times and being able to acknowledge this is sometimes hard. It is hard because those happy times are no more, and it is hard because the most difficult times are probably the most recent and fresh in the memory. But perhaps it is only reasonable to remind oneself that there were happy times and to therefore keep a memento.
Some objects lose their connection altogether, while others are reminders for years. What you keep or give away is entirely a matter of choice. Do you want to be reminded? Do you want to keep a sliver of that time to remember that it happened? Do you want to get rid of everything they ever touched for a new start? There’s no perfect answer. For me, each object had a unique answer.
I still have some wedding photos because people who know I was married still ask me what I wore. I have got rid of too much to count, and somewhat appropriately, can’t remember what those things were. Some things I’ve kept – maybe they’re keepsakes – I think they’re just belongings I still quite like, alongside the occasional reminder that’s kept in a cupboard.
We all have a past, whether we erase it or keep it, and that at least is something worth remembering.