The Things I Keep

It probably would not surprise you if I told you that I see something every day that reminds me of my daughter Charlotte. If you were to come into our house, you would sense her presence: in photographs, pieces of artwork, a few remaining toys.  There are many ways in which her spirit remains in our home.

Most of her clothes are now gone, passed along to other little girls who love all things pink and purple. I have kept a few select t-shirts and outfits that carry sentimental attachment.

I still have most of her blankets and many of her stuffed animals. I have all of her books. I can’t get rid of books.

Her room looks much as it did before she died. The Tinkerbell comforter sits on the bed. The balloons we collected each year on her birthday are still attached to the wall. In place of a six-year-old’s toys and clothes, my daughter’s room holds supplies for our foundation: t-shirts, marketing materials, swag.

All of these items seem natural to keep. I have noticed, however, that there are random bits of Charlotte that I need to hold on to. These are things that I could get rid of. Perhaps maybe I should get rid of them. I never would have believed that these items would carry any kind of sentimental attachment. Despite all logic, these are the things I keep:

Exhibit A: The sharps container
This was the depository for all of the needles that went into Charlotte’s port when we had to administer various medicines in those final days. The container was supplied by our pediatric hospice in November of 2009. It was placed on top of the refrigerator. It never left. I have thought many times of disposing of the container, yet I find it never leaves its place on the fridge. It reminds me of her bravery. I like remembering that about her.

Exhibit B: The potty chair
I justify keeping this item because it serves a double function as a stool (when the lid is down, of course). There is no rational reason for keeping this in my house right now. We have no children. We don’t have a lot of toddler visitors. Charlotte didn’t even use that potty chair after she was around 3 years old. Yet it stays there. In “her” bathroom.

Exhibit C: The pony phone
Charlotte asked for the pony phone for her 4th Christmas. It was the first time she had ever asked for a specific item from “Santa”. She started asking for this pony phone in October. I believe we had to order it by mail because they didn’t offer it in the store. She. Had. To. Have. The. Freaking. Pony. Phone!

Santa brought the Pony Phone in Christmas 2008. Charlotte couldn’t have been happier. We have the whole “reveal” on video and her reaction is quintessential Charlotte (“Oh mommy! A pony phone! It’s what I always wanted!”). I watch that video and think of the huge tumor that was growing inside her head at that very moment. One short month later, we found ourselves deep in the world of brain cancer. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the last Christmas we had with our daughter. I think I will always keep the Pony Phone.

Exhibit D: The lunch box
When we went to Disney, one of the generous people in our community gifted Charlotte with a Tinkerbell backpack and lunchbox set for our travels. We used the backpack throughout Disney World and it still has a special place in her room. When I went back to work, I started carrying my lunch in the lunchbox. Sometimes I would get funny looks from people who didn’t know better (“Ha ha! Cute little lunchbox you have there!”)If they only knew the whole story, I would think.

With almost two years of wear, the lunchbox has seen better days. Tonight, I decided to go to Target and buy a new lunchbox. I needed something that carried Charlotte’s spirit. A soft, penguin lunch carrier spoke to me. Charlotte loved penguins. They were her favorite bird because “they waddle and swim and they have wings…but they don’t fly.”

I continue to say this, but grief is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s the littlest things, the most unexpected things, the seemingly mundane household objects, that pull at your heart.

So while some people may not understand it, these are the things I keep.

Special thanks to guest author Rachel Reynolds for sharing her story with us. Rachel founded CJ’s Thumbs Up to honor the memory of her daughter, Charlotte. You can read more of Rachel’s work on her blog.


  1. Debbie said on December 4, 2012 at 2:28 pm ... #

    Hi Rachel,
    It’s funny how certain things have more value after we’ve lost our children. I still have all the stuff that the nurse used for my son when he battled cancer. It too reminds me of how brave and strong he was. Hold on to whatever you need to only you will know when it’s time to let go. Thank you for sharing this. I lost my son Shane on June 24, 2011 at the age of 29 to Colon Cancer.
    He will always be my hero.
    God Bless!

  2. marsha said on December 4, 2012 at 3:58 pm ... #

    It has been almost 25 years since my son was killed and I am just now letting go of some of his things. It was so hard but I knew I had to do it. I still have his bike, his baseball glove and clothes that he wore the night before he was killed and I will never let those things go. It is a very hard thing to do.

  3. Terry Barsalou said on December 5, 2012 at 1:53 pm ... #

    I lost my 19 year old daughter in September while she was returning home from college for her boyfriend’s birthday. She drove from Virginia Beach and was 100 yards from our house when she lost control of her car due to new gravel just being put down, the car went off of the road into a tree, she did not survive the ambulance ride to the hospital. We didn’t tell her good-bye. She loved Tinkerbell, so our Christmas tree this year has a Tinkerbell theme. Her overnight bag is still packed, I can’t bear to go through her personal things yet, but know I will someday need to let them go. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone feeling this way. Our son is ten years old, he has a big whole in his life, as we all do. Nicole was a big sister and a little mom at times, they had a love for each that will last an eternity.

  4. Windyfairy said on December 6, 2012 at 7:34 am ... #

    For us, it’s a soccar ball Easter egg and a piece of rose quartz. He was so upset that the Easter Bunny had forgotten my basket, so he shared one of his “special” eggs. Right before he was killed, he went panning for gold. Every rock he found was “gold”. He picked one of the biggest, and to him, the prettiest, to give to me. I have it in a china cabinet with my depression glass. It will stay there forever.

  5. Debbie said on January 15, 2013 at 12:32 pm ... #

    We’ve saved many things but the most important to me is her signature on a small piece of paper. Jessica was going to get her hair cut and styled as she was going to sing at her cousin’s wedding along with her sister and 2 other cousins. Jessica and her boyfriend were both killed when the car he was driving hit a patch of ice and jetted them out in front of an on coming truck. Both were wearing seat belts but to no avail. they both died. Jessica was buried 1 month before her 21st birthday. I still grieve,16 years later, but am so very happy that she is a very important part of our lives.

  6. Carolyn said on January 30, 2013 at 7:21 am ... #

    My son was 18 when he suicided. that was 7 1/2 years ago. I let go of some of things shortly after he died to his friends but everything else remains with me. I see no reason to get rid of the books he enjoyed as a child, his guitar, the jewelry he was wearing when he died, his favorite clothes, the shoes he took off before his fatal decision. We no longer live in the house where he died so his room is no more except in my mind. I recommend to people, don’t hurry when it comes to cleansing your house of your kid’s stuff. If you get rid of it, it’s gone forever. Peace to anyone who has lost a child – of any age.

  7. Sherry said on February 5, 2013 at 10:14 pm ... #

    My son was killed in a motorcycle accident in August of 2010 – a week before going to college. His room looks the same. My heart aches for all bereaved parents… it is a loneliness like none other. I feel better with his things around me and understand how important your children’s things are to you.. the simple things; shoes, notes, school papers, favorites. I held on to an unfinished drink he had in the fridge for a long time – a Snapple that said IMMUNITY .. of all things. I wish there was immunity from the tragedies of life – but not so.

  8. Marsha said on February 9, 2013 at 9:25 pm ... #

    my 21 year old daughter, a U.S. Marine, wife, mother to my grandson died 41 months ago. her husband wanted EVERY reminder of her gone from his life, including us, with the exception of my grandson and to him, he cut all ties. but first we had to clean out their house of as many of her things as we could fit in our luggage. So i have her wedding rings, some of her clothes and jewelry, and the motorcycle gear she wore when she died on her motorcycle. Plus i have everything else she left behind when she joined the Marines at 17, fresh out of high school. I wear her rings and her clothes and the grief that never wavers, never dissipates, and never ends

  9. NancyKaye said on May 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm ... #

    It is over 8 yrs. since we lost Brandy Lee…I still have all her clothes & different items & pictures everywhere..they give me some comfort……

  10. Sharon said on July 8, 2014 at 9:32 am ... #

    I lost my beautiful mam last November, my soulmate, my best friend the love of my life. My dad has painted the house and cleared away her things, I lost the plot, I know it’s hard for him looking at mam’s things but I just can’t deal with it, devastated is an understatement. He can’t see it from my point of view and it makes me hate him for it. Am I being irrational?? My mam will always been in my heart but god i miss her so so much. What I would give for one of her hugs 🙁

  11. belinda hayes said on August 25, 2014 at 2:54 pm ... #

    Hi I lost my 20 year old only boy almost 7 weeks ago suddenly I’m heartbroken looking at all his pictures and clothes is tearing me apart but I won’t get rid of them miss him terrible this is like a nightmare bless you all that are grieving x

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