We have all heard that love gives meaning to life. But did you ever realise that love gives meaning to things? Material, physical, tangible things – quite the antithesis to something as ephemeral and ineffable as love. Yet all our lives, we collect and gift things for the emotional value they possess.
Famed poet and activist Maya Angelou told us something about the power of human feeling – “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Perhaps this can be said of things too. We may forget their purpose, their need, but it’s hard to let go of things engraved with emotions, exchanged in love, encapsulated in memory.
Breaking up with a cheater
Sachin had a few such things. When his fiancé of 1 year and girlfriend for 3 left him after he caught her cheating, it seemed all he had left were things. Reminding him, teasing him, torturing him of a past he wanted to erase and a future he wished to stop dreaming of. “Somehow they brought me comfort – initially I looked at her stuff in my house and thought this nightmare would end. I’d wake up with everything okay and her with me.” Clothes, books, random assortments of jewellery/makeup/and other belongings carelessly left behind by her. Then came the gifts, birthdays, anniversaries, special occasion stuff, or even random gifts that made their every day so special.
And of course, the memories – hundreds of them – in texts, photos, videos, all in the palm of his hand.Ruchi also found herself buried under such an avalanche when she finally said goodbye to a 4-year abusive relationship. Years of sorry-it-won’t-happen-again to I’m-sorry-it-happened-again expressed through gifts, poems, messages, flowers, the dried petals of which she saved. Things that were a sum of those years – the hope, the pain, the love. Everyone told her to throw them away. But she just could not bring herself to it. “Yes, even looking at them brought a mad rush of tears to my eyes. I did not even know if the tears were because it was over or because I was still in love.”
Losing a loved one to death
And what about things associated with a loved one taken too soon? Arif’s wife died of cancer 5 years into their wedding. Four years of wedded bliss, and 1 of running from one hospital to the next, a lifetime of loss. Holding on to every little thing that belonged to his wife became his way of coping with his grief. “I even went to the extent of fighting with her sister when she came to help me clean the house. I would not let her discard anything. It seemed such an insult, that just because she was dead her things stopped holding any value.”
oping with loss and bereavement
Psychotherapist Gaurav Deka explains this attachment with six important needs of human existence – certainty, variety, growth, significance, contribution, and connection. In an ambiguous and unpredictable life, the need for certainty helps us make some order in chaos. Holding on to things from an end to a relationship that was not in our control, helps protect that need. It is a coping mechanism, one where we project the emotions involved on to material things. He suggests asking yourself two questions: How does holding on to things make you feel? How is it helping you? “Once you begin to answer these, you will get closer to the closure you seek.”