The loss of a loved one is a difficult enough experience to deal with, but having to sort through all their belongings can perhaps be the most emotional aspect of the loss. Regardless of the sentimental value of these items, the task of separating what to keep and what to discard is extremely stressful, with many people taking months to decide about what’s most important. More than that, what do you do with all their legal documents, and all their clothes, or even their electronics?
Some specialists suggest disposing of everything but those items that provide joy, which can be a scary idea right after a loved one has passed. For a period of time, all their belongings evoke those same feelings of sadness and grief, so much so that even a simple t-shirt can open the floodgates. Seeing their things around the home can also give you a sense of reassurance, almost as if they’re still there. Looking through their clothes, their cupboards, or even their work notes can bring you happiness when the loss begins to feel overwhelming.
Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometime the weather is calm, and sometimes it’s overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.
Author: Vicki Harrison
However, after a certain point, seeing their belongings can begin to feel too emotionally powerful, and this may be your cue to begin the process of getting rid of some of their belongings.
Immediately following the loss, their belongings strewn around the house gave you a sense of comfort, almost as if your loved one was still there with you. But as the days turned into weeks, these belongings began to prolong your feelings of grief, with every item of theirs serving as a reminder of the loss that you’ve suffered. Unable to bear these feelings, you finally decide to start packing away the non-essentials.
The very first feeling that you’ll feel is guilt, and this is absolutely normal. You wonder how long they would have waited had the roles been reversed, or perhaps they wouldn’t have thrown your things away at all? At first maybe you consider that these belongings would be suitable to give to someone else, such as a friend or family member. Even if they don’t use these things, it would at least stop you from having to throw them out.
It’s important to remember that just like with every other aspect of dealing with loss, there are absolutely no rules by which you have to abide. Whether it takes you months, or even years to begin sorting through your loved ones belongings, the essential part is that you’re able to realize that this is a crucial part of the grieving process, and it should be done on your terms, and your terms alone.
The idea of cleaning out your home can actually be an activity of physical healing, as it allows you to unpack the sorrow nestled into every aspect of it, and have somewhat of a fresh start. Your loved one would want whatever it is that makes you happier and allows you to move on with your life, and it’s necessary to keep that in mind while going through this process.
The easiest way to get through this is to select those few items that you absolutely want to hold on to, and to set them aside. Most often people will keep photos, some clothing items, perhaps a few jewelry items, and maybe some important personal items, such as things related to your loved ones hobbies. Once these are set aside for safe keeping, the rest can be packed or given away. Consider asking friends and family members to sort through whatever belongings they may need, so that those items are at least given good use.
Whatever else remains is at your discretion when it comes to keeping. If your loved one had items packed away in storage, or boxes thrown away into the basement or attic, you may choose to meticulously pour over every item inside them, or to simply set them out on the curb for garbage pick-up. Once the items are gone, they’re gone. So make sure you have no regrets when it comes to these belongings.
Because each person grieves in their own way, no one’s advice on what to keep can help you. Some people discard everything, while others memorialize their homes with these belongings. Some even speak to their loved ones before their passing to see what they would want to be kept, while others don’t have this luxury. Some people begin sorting through items within days of their loved one passing, while others may wait months on end.
The timetable of grieving should be catered to you, and to you only. If opening your closet, to find all your loved ones clothes still there offers you a sense of happiness or comfort, than keep them there for as long as you need. If instead it brings you sorrow and grief, than it may be time to start the cleaning process.
There is no right way to grieve. There’s only the best way for you, and sometimes it can takes ages before you find it.