Monday, February 26, 2018

In Grief: Sifting and Sorting A Loved One's Personal Belongings

[Reviewed and updated April 1, 2024]

The best linking object, if it can be called that, is the love you feel for the departed. Wherever you go, whatever you do, this love is always with you. ~ Harriet Hodgson

A reader writes: It is going on two months since my dad passed away and I am doing a little better now than when I last wrote to you. I still have my real sad days though about him and mom at times. I have been to the cemetery a couple of times also to visit their graves. I still miss them terribly . . .What is a very hard process for me right now is doing away with my parents’ personal belongings.
It is just so hard to do that -- for me anyway! I am having so many mixed feelings about it. For one thing, I can't help but feel that I am getting rid of the fact that they ever existed. I guess everyone has different feelings about their loved ones’ possessions. I guess I still have a ways to go in dealing with their losses.

My response: You are not alone in feeling as you do about your parents' precious possessions, my dear. (See, for example, some of the comments I’ve assembled in an earlier post, In Grief: Sorting a Loved One's Personal Belongings, and read some of the articles listed at the base.) Right now these personal possessions serve as "connecting objects" for you, and that's why it's so difficult to part with anything that belonged to either of your parents.

Please know that there is no need to hurry this process ~ you will be ready when you are ready, and trust me, you will know when it is time. Sort if you must, but don't make any decisions that you may regret later. If there are some things you're not sure of giving up right now, try boxing and storing them instead, in case one day you should change your mind. Think about anyone else in your family who may want some of your parents' things one day, even if it's several years from now.

I am reminded me of a lovely article I read some years ago that I want to share with you, in hopes that it will help:
For most of five years she sorted. 
One must sort through the papers . . . medical bills in this stack, condolence notes in another, bank statements, retirement benefits, death benefits, life insurance . . . so much paper. 
Hours and days she sat at the kitchen table crying and sorting. 
“Still sorting?” we would ask. 
“Yes,” she would say through her tears, “there is just so much.” 
On and on through the first year she sorted . . . court papers, sympathy cards, letters from friends, tax forms, her kitchen table still piled high with papers. 
“Still sorting?” we’d ask.
“Yes,” she’d sigh, “there is just so much.” 
And on through the second year she sorted . . . suits to Goodwill, sweaters and shirts to her grandsons, tee shirts to the granddaughters to wear in the dorm. 
“Still sorting?” we’d ask, noticing the house in disarray as it never was when he was alive. 
“Yes,” she’d answer wistfully. “There is just so much.” 
And through the third and fourth years she sorted . . . guns and tools, cuff links and tie tacks, golf clubs and fishing poles. Nothing was thrown out or left to chance as the house remained cluttered with his things. 
“Is she okay?” we began to ask. “Why does she take so long? Will she ever finish? Can’t she get on with her life? Why this endless sifting and sorting of the things he left behind?” 
“Still sorting?” we’d ask impatiently. “How long must this go on? Is there still more to do even after all this time? Are you okay?” 
“Yes,” she’d answer patiently. “You don’t understand. There’s just so much.” 
But now, we do understand . . . as we sort. Comforted by her things around us as we laugh and cry as we consider each item. And sometimes we find the treasures . . . a scarf that still smells of her, a letter she forgot to mail, a diary we won’t read, pictures of her as a girl, a young wife, a new mother. 
It’s been more than a year now, but we are in no hurry to finish the job, because there is just so much . . . and then no more. 
~ By Paula Moore Hurtt, in Bereavement Magazine, May/June 2003. Reprinted with permission from Bereavement Publishing, Inc., 888-604-4673
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