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The grief of sorting through a loved one's belongings

July 18, 2017

 

Today I was triggered. My grief embers were brought to the surface.....just a little. 

 

I received a phone call saying sorry that it had been almost two years since my husband's death. But because of a suicide and some items that are kept for evidence for a long time........Would I like my husbands shirt back? 

 

My mind went blank. Then my entire body got very, very hot and I felt dizzy and sick to my stomach. I had a vision of this shirt. I know the shirt. I remember. I remember. I remember. I had visions of the shirt being torn up? Bloody? He shot himself in the heart and this is the only evidence they have to give back to me? Where are his shoes? His socks? His pants? I already have his wallet that the medical examiner gave me the day he died. I had visions of myself saying yes, I would take the shirt and then what? What would I do with it? Would I curl up in bed with it and wail and scream? Would I hide it in a box in my closet and get it out when I was feeling sad? Would this shirt. This piece of clothing that I washed for years and that last touched his body almost two years ago.......Would it aid in or hinder my healing? I instantly knew what to say. My intuition went into overdrive. Every cell in my body told me No. I could hear my friend in my head saying.........No Nik let it go. I ran over it all so quickly in my mind, asked my angels for guidance and out of my mouth to the person on the phone came the sentence, "No. I don't think it's a good idea for my healing to have that shirt. I appreciate it so much that you have called to ask and to make sure after all this time. But No, I have to let the shirt go." 

 

And then? And then I got off the phone and felt out of my body. I walked into my house and sat at the kitchen table and stared blankly at the wall. I just sat there for like 10 minutes while my children were playing in the living room together. They caught a glimpse of me and their little eyes filled with worry and my 6-year-old daughter said, "Mama? What's wrong, Mama? What is it?" I suddenly and instantly burst into sobs. "It's Papa. They have his shirt. They have the shirt he was wearing the day he died and they wanted to know if I wanted it. I told them No. Oh my gosh there's nothing left of him. He's gone. He's just gone." They both climbed into my lap hugging me and wiping away my tears and my daughter said, "Mama? We don't want the shirt. (little brother nodding). Mama? Did you want the shirt? Is that why you're crying?" No. No I don't want the shirt but this just triggered in me so many emotions. It triggered in me the deep pain of losing him so tragically and suddenly and having to so quickly make so many decisions that meant he was really gone from my life, from our house, from my arms.....forever. 

 

I allowed myself to let out those tears. I took a hot bath at nap time. I meditated. And I re-read piles of emails from people telling me that my writing and grief guiding has helped them beyond words. All of this reminded me of who I am. All of this reminded me that the wound can still hurt even though we are healing. Even though we have let go. Even though we have moved forward. 

 

Today I had to let go of that shirt. I had to let go of him.....just a little bit more. I had to do that for my own healing and my own mental health. That shirt wasn't going to be any warm and fuzzy memories to myself or our children so I told the universe to set it and me free. 

 

There is so much grief that comes with sorting through, donating, boxing up and letting go of our loved ones things. It's a process and there is no right or wrong timeline. You do what feels right in your heart, in your gut. You will know when you are ready to sell, donate, or box up certain items. It might take you one item at a time like it did for me. I started with his toothbrush. I threw it away a week after he died and then I cried for days about that toothbrush. I wanted it back....I wanted him back. But as much as it hurt it was also healing. To let it go and know that he was never coming home to brush his teeth again. I saved his deodorant for weeks and finally had to throw it away because it was becoming an unhealthy trigger for me personally. I couldn't sit around crying holding and smelling a bottle of deodorant for hours in the middle of the night anymore. I had to get some sleep so I could care for our children. Right away I donated his little used Chevy Aveo work car to charity. It was the car he drove in to the land that he took his life and I didn't want to see it ever again. I wanted to donate it so that it could be turned from sadness and pain into money to help kids that are dying and sick and their families. It made me feel really great to do that. It was very, very healing. 

 

I won't go into the small details of his belongings that I have kept, boxed up, sold, or given away. It's so personal. Every single item holds a story to me. His socks don't matter to anyone but I washed them every day and picked them up around the house off the floor. I have learned that to a griever, to a widow in specific......it is so very personal to them what they do with their husbands items. Please don't ask for his things. I had people do this and it threw me into deeper grief. It felt like they were asking for his arm, or his hug, or friendship.......none of which I had anymore. If someone asked for his nice winter coat it felt like I was giving a piece of him away and at first I was nowhere near ready for that. Just being asked for a piece of clothing, or to be able to take our dog for a run, or to borrow his old vintage car for the day? Just being nicely asked sent me deeper into grief, deeper into pain, deeper into holding on so damn tightly. It's so personal. It's so complicated. It's a whole other level of grief. The belongings. The clothing. I would lay on my cold cement basement floor at any time of the day.....usually at the oddest times....and dig out all of his clothes from the boxes I had put them in....lay the clothes on the floor and wail. Pick up each flannel shirt and be flooded with memories. And wail some more. And scream....."Why Ryan? Just why? Where's the love note? In your jeans pocket? Why would you leave me here alone in this cold basement?" 

 

It has been almost two years since his death. I don't do this with his clothing anymore. I have donated most of it and the rest is for me and our children for memories. I have nothing left I am willing to donate, give away, sell, or borrow. What I have left....what my children have left....is all we have left of him besides his love in our hearts and his soul surrounding us with guidance and protection when we need it. His dirty farm work hat still hangs by our key rack. It's not up for donation. I like it there. It's comforting. My friend that worked so hard to give me my dreams, a cozy loving home.....he wore that hat when he worked all that overtime all those years and his hat can hang there to remind me of our eternal friendship and bond. I am sobbing writing these final words. My children in the other room.....they continue to play because they know that sometimes Mama cries when she's typing on her computer. It's healing. I rip open and share my heart with you to let you know that I am a real person with real wounds. I share my joy and light to let you know there is hope and healing even with pain in our hearts. I have deep empathy for anyone experiencing the pain of grief. And I let you know that I am positive that you can make it through your suffering with resilience, hope, love, compassion, and become maybe a different but more enlightened human. Every spiritual leader from Jesus to Buddha and beyond were trying to tell us that the path to enlightenment, the path to fully understand what it means to be human, the path to true empathy is inside of pain. Let your pain wash over you, don't try to push it away.....let it guide you. 

 

There is grief is the letting go of human possessions. But what you don't have to let go of is the love, the wonderful memories, and your soul connection to your loved one in the beyond. Yes, I let go of that shirt today. And it hurt. It hurt like hell. And yes, I have untied the strings that bind me to pure suffering each and every day. I have let go of my truest friend so that his soul can be free to soar, learn, and grow with God. But he's still in my heart. I still hear him in my head giving me advice and knowledge and pep talks. He's still my truest friend. He's just on the other side now. He's just in a different place. 

 

If you are going through this....the sorting of your loved one's belongings. Take your time. Have a friend help you if you don't want to be alone. Go slow. Think it through. Go with your gut. I'm always thinking of you from afar and sending you so much hope, healing, and light. You can do this. You can let go and you can keep the love forever. 

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