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Dealing With the Belongings of a Departed Loved One – To Discard or To Keep

by Reuben M. Chow, Living-With-Grief.com

When a person passes on, it is inevitable that he or she leaves behind many “things” and belongings. This is even more so today, when everyone seems to have more “stuff” than in the simpler past.

And, generally, the bigger the house, and the longer a person has lived there without conscious effort to de-clutter, the more things he or she would accumulate over the years.

For those of us who are sentimental creatures, sifting through the belongings of a departed loved one is a truly emotional experience. It’s like, oh, he bought this in 1987, or, hey, he used to use that every day, or, she listened to this CD every Christmas season, etc. The nostalgia can be overwhelming at times.

And it’s difficult to let go of such physical items because they remind us of the loved ones whom we can no longer see, hear, touch or talk to. While the memories are often bittersweet, we tend to cling on, especially the sentimental ones among us.

But life goes on. And since life goes on, it makes sense to carry on as happily as possible, in as fulfilling a manner as possible. And part of doing so entails letting go of whatever makes us unhappy.

When you look at an item which once belonged to your departed loved one, ask yourself – does seeing it make you happy, or does it fill you with a sense of regret and general unhappiness?

I had come to realize that much of what I kept was making me unhappy whenever I saw them. Or, rather, there was a myriad of negative emotions, from sadness, to wistfulness, to regret, to guilt and self-reproach, and more.

Some of these items were kept away, in drawers and cupboards, but each time I came across them, for example during a house packing exercise, I would be negatively “hit”.

Others were displayed in the open, and had become very much part of the background. However, I suspect these items were, in fact, negatively affecting me on a daily and subconscious basis. I’ll bet a lot of people do something like that, and it’s terrible for health, both mental and emotional health, as well as physical wellbeing too.

I mean, if you’re going to hang something on the wall which makes you sad day in day out, that’s like taking a dagger and slowly digging into your flesh, a little each day. To truly heal, to move on, and to be really happy, you have got to stop torturing your spirit.

If you are going to display pictures, use those which represent happy and joyous moments. Don’t hang pictures which remind you of the funeral, for example.

And try not to keep “shrines” in the house. I know I did – there were many things, decorations and areas of the house which I kept “as they were”, because they were put in place by the departed loved one and I just wanted to keep them in place, untouched. It did me little good, to be frank, because I only felt sadness whenever I looked in those directions.

Bear in mind that “stuff” are not the same as love. Just because you let go of someone’s belongings, does not mean you are letting go of his or her memory. And throwing away his or her things certainly does not mean you love him or her any less.

Only recently, years after my parents’ deaths, did I make the conscious effort to really let go and move on. Whatever made me sad or held me back when I looked at them had to go. Out. Those which were still useful could be given away or donated to charitable organizations. Those which had no use were dumped.

If you really want to keep a memory of an item somewhere, that’s where digital cameras come in useful.

The letting go process isn’t a straightforward one, and neither is it an easy one. It almost comes in phases – at least it did for me. With the passage of time, I was slowly able to let go of more and more.

At some point, though, it’s a bit like ripping off a band-aid – do you want to do it slowly and gradually, perhaps prolonging the pain, or do you reach a stage whereby you decide to pull it off once and for all?

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