BEL MOONEY: I dread my mementoes of a lifetime being treated like rubbish

I dread my mementoes of a lifetime being treated like rubbish

Dear Bel

I don’t think I can say I have a problem, more a niggling worry that I’m sure is experienced by lots of people.

I’m in my 60s and have no family, friends or job. I just have my husband who is in his 70s.

I suppose he is likely to die before me (not to be morbid, just realistic) and then I will be totally alone.

This I will have to deal with like anyone else, but I’m concerned about what will happen when I die.

With no family to leave things to, I hate the idea of strangers pawing through my things and then throwing them away

With no family to leave things to, I hate the idea of strangers pawing through my things and then throwing them away

Obviously I can leave a will so that any money and assets will be distributed, but what will happen to all the things that mean something to me, but have no monetary value

For example — photographs, ornaments, all the little things one collects over a lifetime.

With no family to leave things to, I hate the idea of strangers pawing through my things and then throwing them away.

Realistically I know this is what will happen but I find it worries me. I don’t know why it should — after all, I won’t be there to see it.

Am I being silly and shallow to be bothered about this, particularly when other people have terrible problems and tragic lives

I don’t want to talk to my husband about this as I think he may get upset if he thinks I am upset.

Do you have any advice


First, I want to assure you that you are not at all ‘silly and shallow’ because your question touches on one of the most important issues human beings have to face: how we come to terms with our own mortality.

What’s more, the fact that you have written like this speaks of a deep loneliness, made worse by the fact that you wish to protect your husband from your pain.

Forgive me for being frank, but it seems to me that the problem lies not so much with your worry over what will happen to your photographs, as with your profound sadness that there is nobody to leave them to. There are unstated regrets at the heart of your letter that I can’t ignore.

People often write to me about the aching lack of family and friends. The absence of children in a life often causes particular pain when retirement age is reached.

I will always remember an older woman friend (single and childless) telling me sadly how much it grieved her to think ‘there will be nobody to clear my house when I die’.

Similarly, it makes me sad to see medals from two world wars on sale on eBay — when I have my own grandad’s proudly on display in a case with photographs and memorabilia. It’s hard not to wonder why there is no one left to treasure those precious relics.

Sometimes I think that the saddest words are ‘House Clearance’. But what is to be done Nothing. It happens. And all of us have to accept what is, and act accordingly.

Already I have told my children which of my precious things I have left them, and have advised them to sell — because when they have families they will need the cash. Sometimes it cleanses the spirit to be resolutely unsentimental.

In your case, I really do think you should sit down with your husband and talk about these things. There’s no need to get upset; there is a need to share.

Supposing that, unknown to you, he worries too It could be that you end up smiling together at the importance most of us (and I speak as a hoarder!) attach to objects with no intrinsic value.

But leaving your possessions on one side for a moment, I wonder if you would consider stepping outside your front door and engaging with the world — even if you have never done so

You might (God willing) have over 20 years of life left, which could be enhanced by new friendships.

Sometimes, you know, people choose to isolate themselves — in which case, loneliness is a self-inflicted wound.

There are ways to meet people (I have written about this so much in the past) which range from local activities (The University Of The Third Age, or U3A, for example), to volunteering, dog-walking, etc — and I sincerely think you should give this some thought.


Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or e-mail [email protected]

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

Let me tell you this, from the bottom of my heart: It is never too late to make changes to your life.

Somewhere there may be people who will take you to their hearts and — yes — mourn you when you have gone.

In the meantime, what is to be done about the possessions

For now, nothing. Enjoy the things you treasure, move them around the house so they can be seen anew, take the photographs out to look at with your husband — and don’t be sad because of what is past, be glad that you shared it.
Take out the best china and use it.

Then in time (maybe after a good number of years, yet) you might consider the fact that when you take some books, a pretty jug or a bowl that you have enjoyed to a charity shop, somebody will buy it and enjoy it all over again — even as it makes a few pounds for a good cause.

This is about new life: a new start for the object and for you, since you will feel just that bit lighter in spirit. Too much ‘stuff’ can weigh us down, even when we don’t realise it’s happening. Make room.

Did you watch Cranford when it was on TV I just took Mrs Gaskell’s book from the shelf, turning to the chapter, Old Letters. This is about deciding, bravely and sadly, to let go of certain possessions — in this case, letters from beloved people now dead. Miss Matty (so beautifully played by Judi Dench) says: ‘We must burn them I think. No one will care for them when I am gone.’

Miss Matty’s dread is exactly the same as yours: ‘. . . all (the letters) had only been interesting to those who loved the writers; and it seemed as if it would have hurt her to allow them to fall into the hands of strangers.’

Am I suggesting you burn your photographs Not exactly. All I can say is that if ever you decide to do so, you will be taking control of past, present — and future too.

My doomed love for an older woman

Dear Bel

Never in a million years did I think I would write to you. I have a great family and plenty of friends but I can’t tell anyone about my dilemma.

I’m in my early 20s and think I’m in love with a married woman at work who’s twice my age. I’ve known her a few years and always thought her pretty and a nice person.

But over the past few months we’ve worked together more and I can’t stop thinking of her. She has a great figure and looks ten years younger than her age.

Since I look older than I am, I think we kind of meet in the middle.

She’s always talked to me as an equal, not as a youngster, as some of the other middle-aged women do.

She doesn’t really flirt but there’s a lot of eye contact. I want to be near her, and touch her all the time.

A few weeks ago, I’d had a particularly bad day and so she gave me a hug — which felt so right. I can’t forget that hug or stop thinking what it would be like to kiss her — and more!

She only works part-time, so I miss her when she’s away but feel tortured when she’s there. I hate it when she mentions her husband but think her marriage is fine.

Still, there is definitely something between us.

I go out with my mates and am never short of female interest — but none of them compare to her. I think if I just tell her how I feel she might feel the same. But I know her well enough to know she wouldn’t cheat on her husband.

So what’s the point I’d move jobs but in these times that’s not easy. What shall I do


You are not the first person to be
attracted to a work colleague, and you certainly won’t be the last!

suspect most offices are hotbeds of fancying and flirtation, some of
which passes the time in a most pleasant way, some of which becomes

Having worked within an office only twice in my life
(years ago), I can still remember what it was like — and how a certain
sub-editor and a fellow journalist were always telling me their wives
didn’t understand them!

Also how flattering and fun it was to have such
attention paid, when him indoors seemed grumpy or inattentive.

when I myself had a ‘thing’ about a certain hunky colleague, I was
(briefly) quite miserable. Nothing happened. I was married and he was
far too sensible.

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So I do understand.

And I suspect your lady probably knows you have a big crush on her and enjoys the eye contact which reveals so much about her young admirer.

You don’t mention whether or not she has children. But if she has, and you think her marriage is happy, then for your own sake, you have to put a brake on these fantasies.

Even if she hasn’t a family, she has given you no reason to think she’s up for a fling with her young colleague. But — hey — you know all this already!

As you say, there is absolutely no point in tormenting yourself. Still less, getting to the stage where you hang about, invading her space, waiting for another hug. That could become quite creepy.

The woman you like so much might end up swatting you off like a pesky little fly. Sooner or later a moonstruck kid will become tedious, or laughable.

Of course you can’t just change jobs — although there would be no harm in keeping your eyes and ears open, just in case. In the meantime, although it’s hard, you have to keep telling yourself that this is going nowhere and could spoil everything.

You must go out with those friends of yours and start dating — even if you don’t really want to at first.

Make a decision to seek out fun and friendship and put some sparkle in your life, so that when you meet the lady in the office you have something to talk about.

And ask her about her husband too. He is real. And I’m afraid you have to get real yourself — and realise that your ‘love’ is nothing of the kind.

I just give advice, not therapy …

Two weeks ago, the main letter was from ‘Cate’ — full of bitter rage nine years after the break-up of her marriage.

In the middle of constructive advice, I wrote: ‘. . . no marriage break-up is the fault of just one half of the couple.’

This really upset Liz, who writes that the last ten years of her marriage to her ‘childhood sweetheart’ were made a hell due to his alcoholism.

She rebukes me: ‘Drink and drugs will kill any marriage. Please do not make such blanket statements. Not all marriage break-ups are the fault of both parties.’

In the middle of constructive advice, I wrote: ' marriage break-up is the fault of just one half of the couple'

In the middle of constructive advice, I wrote: '….no marriage break-up is the fault of just one half of the couple'

I made the debatable statement for two reasons.

First, I’d been re-reading the excellent book I recommended to Cate, Breaking Up Blues, by psychoanalyst Denise Cullington — whose analysis of truth and guilt is subtle, but contains the words: ‘The monster in the depths that needs so painfully to be faced is that when the marriage breaks — you played some part in its going wrong.’

My second reason was more personal. In 2003 my husband left me, but I’ve tried hard to be honest about how much was my fault as well as his.

You see, the advice columnist is a real person! With feelings, doubts, guilt, griefs — all of which affect her views.

Anne, from London, objected to my advice in another case: ‘I feel you are overstepping your role as counsellor by giving too directive advice. You have more or less told her what to do which as a therapist/counsellor you should never do.’

But I’m not a therapist! When people write, they want an honest opinion. They don’t want neutrality, of the ‘you must do as you think best’ sort. They’re asking me, a writer, not a professional therapist who’s not allowed to state opinions.

My experience tells me that readers want to know what I would do in that situation. And that’s what I try to tell them.

Of course it can’t be as good as ongoing, supportive face-to-face counselling, but I know it’s useful.

I also know I’m fallible — which is why I’m glad Liz has already accepted my apology.