Last month, we went for dinner at my mom’s house for our combined birthdays. My grandmother was there to celebrate with us, too. My grandmother is 90, but still very sharp. She sent me a check for my birthday like she usually does, so when she told me that she brought me a gift, I was worried that her mind was slipping. She laughed when I reminded her of the check because she knew what I was thinking. “No” she told me, “This was something I wanted to give you while I could see your reaction.”

She walked over to a bag she had in the corner. When she held it up to me, I could see what it was. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. She had given me her Dead Books.

Now, I hope you didn’t just spit out your coffee on the computer screen. Yes, I did say Dead Books. My grandmother has been saving funeral memorial cards, obituaries, newspaper articles, etc. in spiral bound photo albums since the early 1950’s. For years, she kept it a secret from everyone and it wasn’t until the 1980’s that I first saw them. She had turned my uncle’s old bedroom into a TV room for herself and put all her photo albums on display in that room. Nested in among the photo albums were the Dead Books. I was fascinated by the names of all the people that have touched her life – family, friends, neighbors, co-workers. She had written her relationship to the deceased next to the card so the next owner of the books could tell who they were.

The next owner? Who wanted that crazy heirloom? Admittedly, I was the only hand that went up. Neither one of her children was interested in it nor did my sister want it. I used to kid them that since I still lived in the same state as my grandmother, I would be the first one at the house to get the Dead Books. Their reaction? “You can have them!”

Really, I don’t think it is crazy. The Dead Books, although given a crude name, are a historical family treasure. It is no different than writing the names of the deceased in the family bible or keeping the funeral cards in box or drawer. My grandmother went a step further and put the cards in nice albums on display and didn’t bury them (no pun intended) in the corner of the basement.

My grandmother told me that she still has one Dead Book at home that isn’t completely filled. At 90, she has outlived so many of her family and friends. I promised her that I will keep adding to the Dead Books when she is no longer able to do it herself. Sound crazy? It must run in the family!

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