Each loss we experience brings us to a new and unique journey of grief, on which we face myriad questions concerning how life is supposed to unfold now that our loved one is gone.
One common question that occurs in the months following the loss of a loved one is, “When do I distribute his/her things?” This can include possessions such as clothing, personal items, awards, cars and jewelry — all tangible expressions of the precious existence of our loved one.
These material items or linking objects become for some of us the last real connection we have with our loved ones. Or so we think.
I have learned that the answer to the sometimes overwhelming question of whether and when to give possessions away is as unique as the individual who asks it. Each of us must decide how we will remain linked to our loved one long after his/her physical presence is no longer ours to share.
There are those, like my dear mother, who see possessions as holding little sentimental value other than their practical use. The week following my father’s burial, my mom called her six grown children to her home and systematically divided his things among them. Her pragmatic perception of life led her to empty the house of my father’s presence and redecorate. That, for her, was the course she claimed for her survival after 49 years of marriage to a man who was her life companion. And it worked for her.
However, six months later, when my own husband died, I learned that I needed to keep everything in my home the same as before Trent died. With my less pragmatic personality, I found that my survival became based on what little shred of “normal” I could find. And my husband’s possessions were the only unchanged thing left in the life that had been turned upside down with his death. Though I could no longer have Trent’s physical presence with me, I at least could touch those things he held dear.
So those linking objects become the physical connection we have to our deceased loved one. For me and others, keeping our loved ones clothing for a while can be a consolation, as we not only see and touch the fabric, but revel in the comfort found in breathing in their familiar scent. Many widows struggle with whether and when to remove their wedding rings. Issues of guilt, imagined betrayal and fear must be addressed to discover the individual truth these symbolic wedding bands hold, that we each have inside us.
Occasionally those in mourning may feel pressure from family or friends to give their loved one’s things away soon after the death so as to eliminate the tangible reminder of their pain and loss. They second guess when that potentially emotional undertaking should take place. Unfortunately, there is no guide book on how to grieve well. When to distribute possessions and other answers to questions we all must face in grief are ultimately a personal choice we each must undertake. There is no right or only way to be linked to our loved ones. But I believe if we listen to our hearts, we will discover the right path to take with those precious possessions.
Some learn that those treasured linking objects need to remain a part of their lives, while others begin to let go of that which made easier the transition of their relationship with their deceased loved one from one of physical presence to one of the spirit.
As I look back over the 20 years since my husband’s death there has been a slow and steady relinquishing of my initially intense need to keep Trent’s possessions. Of course, I thought, I must keep all of his possessions just in case.
Now after 20 years and countless purgings, I cherish a few of Trent’s favorites as well as his wedding band and a plethora of photos so dear to my heart. But the rest is gone, distributed over the years, when the time seemed right.
Those possessions that were useful or pleasurable to my husband are now someone else’s to enjoy. But my link to Trent is no less diminished by that distribution, because the memory of his spirit resides in its rightful place now deep in my heart.
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