My Grandma's Buttons and Negative Association
Counselors are taught to not disclose personal stories but in this case I am making an exception as this is something everyone has experienced.
I remember the coat my grandma wore to my grandpa’s funeral when I was ten. I loved my grandpa and couldn’t imagine a world without him. My grandma’s coat was a peacock-blue color with big chunky gold buttons with swirl patterns on them. There was a big blue glass stone in the middle and along the outer edges there was a purple, green, red and yellow stone of a smaller size. I believe she bought the coat just for his funeral, saying “there was always too much black at funerals. I just needed something with color.” I was obsessed with that coat and the buttons. After she got sick (and eventually went on to be with my grandpa) I never saw the coat again.
15 years later I was sitting at my grandmother’s (my husband’s grandma) table working on fixing some of her jewelry when she gives me a bag of odd jewelry pieces and buttons, “ I don’t know if you can use any of this or not but I know you are crafty so I thought of you.” I got home and dumped the pieces into my hand—seeing what their made of and if the pieces were broken at all. I grabbed for the next item. I picked it up and paused, holding my breath. I had a pinch of pain in my heart but it took me a minute to figure out why. They were just buttons. Gold buttons with a swirl pattern and different colored stones. I set the buttons aside, just at the corner of my eye while I moved on to the other items. It finally hit me. The buttons were the same as the ones from my grandma’s coat at my grandpa’s funeral. I went through the bag to find more. As I am typing this I have three of them in front of me.
What is the significance? I have a negative association or attachment to those buttons. They aren’t just buttons they are a memory. The memory of my grandpa’s funeral, they take me back to the ten-year-old sitting in a big room with a casket trying to figure out why he died. I am at peace with it now but the buttons are still a reminder.
We all have numerous items that are associated with a memory, person, or feeling. Seeing a particular item or picture triggers a strong emotional response. It doesn’t have to be pain or grief. You can even feel anger, frustration or fear. Sometimes those associations or triggers cause us to:
- Not want to throw something out.
- Collect more of the same item because somehow it fills that pinch or hurt in our hearts that we think will never heal.
- Feel too much pain and so the item gets locked away, only to find other ways to deal with the pain.
- Avoid items or places that remind us of what we are afraid of or what happened. Feelings like this and being “triggered” is common during the holidays as family gathers and old items are brought out of closets. As hard as it may be the pain, anger, and frustration can be avoided forever. Eventually you have to return to the place or face the item that brings back the fear or the hurt.
But you don’t have to face it alone. Partner with a friend or family member. Let yourself grieve and stop trying to let the fear hold you back.