February 23, 2022
The morning my mom died, my brother and I stood in her living room in shock and disbelief. Just two hours prior, in the wee hours of the morning, my mom peacefully passed away in her bed alongside me and my brother. It was my mom‘s way. She never enjoyed being the center of attention, and her death was another way she was able to steal away from the limelight. As always, she did things on her own terms.
Standing in her living room, my brother and I felt overwhelmed by all of the physical items my mom possessed. Her beloved rooster fixtures. Favorite mugs of all sizes. Nursing apparel with over 40 years of wear and tear. Corningware dishes, a wedding gift for my grandmother in the late 1970s. Every item stared back at us, beckoning my brother and me to do something. However, we felt paralyzed to do anything … until we had to.
One year before my mom died, something I think she secretly knew in the recesses of her heart, she made the decision to sell her home. She’d been awarded that home following my parents’ divorce. I remember her meticulous selection of wallpaper, cabinet fixtures, and flooring. She often juxtaposed the space against her modest upbringing. So it came as quite a surprise that she so easily parted ways with it. Nevertheless, she enjoyed the freedom in her new condominium, with lesser responsibilities and a greater sense of community.
Because of her decision though, my brother and I knew we needed to make almost immediate decisions about her belongings after she died.
Channeling my mom‘s philosophy of “get rid of it if you’re not going to use it,“ we decided to donate the majority of her furniture to less fortunate members of her church. This aligned with her values, and we felt compelled to honor her in this way. What remained were more intimate personal effects … her jewelry, array of miniature clocks, pictures, and clothing.
Thankfully, my brother and I immediately agreed upon what was most important to each of us. For him, her grandfather clock was an important item. For me, my mom‘s clothing and even her toiletries held special meaning. So over the course of two weeks, we sorted, boxed, and transported items to each of our respective homes. For me, that resulted in the long haul to Los Angeles, CA and for my brother, it was a five-mile trip down the highway.
Looking back, I recognize the difficulty experienced in parting ways with my mom‘s physical belongings. For example, her plum-colored MAC lipstick represents a direct point of connection to her physical person. It serves as a reminder that she lived and loved. Years after she died, I experienced a moment when I thought I’d misplaced one of her favorite lipstick colors. I instantly felt devastated and then immediately relieved when I discovered it had rolled to the back of my bathroom drawer.
To this day, I have most of my mom’s toiletries tucked away in a plastic bin underneath my bathroom cabinet. With expiration dates on certain products visible and well past due, I have no intention of parting ways with any of these items. And though I rarely open up the bin, the items within it are another reminder that my mom walked this earth for 63 years. That alone is significant to me.
So often, grieving hearts struggle to let go of possessions. But is it really a struggle? Or is it merely the reality of love experienced, memories shared, and attachments to the physical and emotional aspects of a loved one? I don’t have the answer.
What I do know, however, is that society subtly and not-so-subtly communicates the importance of “letting go“ of the past. Moving on. Getting over grief. But we grieving hearts know this is impossible, particularly since love has no expiration date. In addition, we recognize the potential emotional responses to parting ways with possessions, including guilt, sadness, fear of forgetting the person, and numbness. It’s complicated and messy and overwhelming to say the least.
I can’t speak for every grieving heart, but can share what I needed to consider as my brother and I made decisions regarding our mom’s belongings.
What I can confidently share is that there’s not a right way to grieve.
There’s also not a right way to part ways with your loved one’s possessions.
What’s most important is that you thoughtfully assess what you need in each moment. Seek the support of those who you love and trust. And remember that love has no expiration date.
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