What to do with the stuff after they die

Attempting to immortalize your loved one by leaving everything “just as it was” or storing away boxes to go through at some later date may prolong your grieving process, preventing you from moving forward with your life.

ref0009sMy eldest niece has a friend named Jessica McKimmie. Jess has a blog called Peace Through Grief. The first post, dated, coincidentally or not, on September 11, 2013:

After the sudden loss of my mom last year and the loss of my dad eleven years ago, I’m beginning to consider that maybe, just maybe, I’m here on this earth to talk to others about grief.

And she does, through communing with nature and writing a letter to her late mom.

She had a post a few months ago, Saying Goodbye to Stuff: Six Steps for Letting Go After Loss I found particularly wise, useful, and, oh, so true.

The first idea: “Allow yourself time.” And in particular:

Beware of extremes.

Attempting to immortalize your loved one by leaving everything “just as it was” or storing away boxes to go through at some later date may prolong your grieving process, preventing you from moving forward with your life. On the other extreme, you may have impulses to purge everything right away, wishing yourself to push through or quickly “move on” . This too can be a sign of denial of the magnitude of your loss.

It reminded me of a specific situation that I think played out badly, that might have been avoided with a bit more mutual understanding.

There’s a couple I’ll call Jack and Sandy. They met online, fell in love, got married in fairly short order, much to the dismay of Jack’s family. When Jack died of cancer less than a year and a half after the wedding, Jack’s family asked Sandy for some stuff of Jack’s to remind them of Jack, pretty much right after the funeral. Sandy was quite resistant; they had had him for over 40 years, while she had had him less than two, so their demands seemed insensitive and unfair.

My sense is that if Jack’s family had given Sandy more time to grieve, their requests for some of Jack’s mementos would have been better received.
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The Art of Presence

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

8 thoughts on “What to do with the stuff after they die”

  1. That list – The Art of Presence – has some really classic tips. Very nice.

    The “allow yourself time” is really true. It was pretty traumatic with my grandmother when my aunt and mom got home from the funeral and proceeded to throw everything she owned away. The letters that she had kept were particularly hard, especially because I wasn’t allowed to see them.

  2. I am a recent widow and with everything that I have read and conversations with other widows we all react to death in different ways and each way was so totally right for that person. The top three pieces of advice I received were from Rev. Dr. Glenn Leupold immediately after my husbands death: “if you don’t want to do it – don’t” “If it needs to be done and you don’t want to do it, ask for help” and “there is no rule book”. Helpful suggestions are great, conversations with others who have been through what you are going through are even greater, however, grief is very personal and different for each and every one of us.

  3. Lovely post Roger. I could write a whole post here on my experience of losing my parents and what I kept/sold/shared. I have their armchairs and feel their presence always xxxxx

  4. I have a friend whose ‘friends’ went to her home and took away of all her husband’s clothes so she wouldn’t have to do it. If you ever hear of that being done , tell that ‘friend’ to stop, it’s one of the worst things anyone could do. It deprives the widow of a chance to say goodbye or anyone else who has had a death in the family to say goodbye to a part of the lost one’s belongings.
    Glenn is right, according to Clancy. If you don’t want to do it , don’t.

  5. The Traditional Chinese burn all the decease’s “stuff” so they can have them in the other world.

    I am ambassador of bereavement. I tell the bereaved that they should cry or talk.

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