The other day I shared with you the emotional and logistical challenges I discovered as I began sorting and sifting through my mother’s belongings.
It has been just over a year since I said goodbye to Miss Nellie and in many ways, it feels like it was just yesterday. I think she would be happy to know all of us are sharing information via this platform!
Because the whole point of Keeping it REAL Caregiving is to share info and input from others who are living the caregiving journey, I put this question to many on social media:
“What was your process for ‘sorting’ your elders’ belongings once they passed? How long before you faced the task?”
The responses came in fast and furious and those who answered shared their unique experiences.
Here are just some of the answers and I hope what other caregivers have shared will be helpful and perhaps even comforting for you.
One woman shared,
“It took me years to clean out my mom’s stuff but days for my father because he had an apartment and we had to clean it out as soon as possible. Very difficult tasks… I learned a lot of things about my father that I didn't know. I was pleasantly surprised. It was a lot of laughing and crying to get through all his things. The same with my mother. My advice is to take your time and go through everything and you won't believe how much you learn and cherish the memories.”
Another described the process as a 'fascinating lesson.'
“When my Mom died, my Dad wanted to immediately clear out her things. He said the longer you wait the harder it gets. The memories are the hard part. I thought I was detached from items that weren't mine - turns out the oddest little items are giving me the hardest time to part.”
Many times during this past year since saying goodbye to Miss Nellie I have wondered if I am somehow ‘behind schedule’ and if the clearing should already be finished?
For those of you wondering the same, it turns out plenty of people are also in somewhat of what you might call a holding pattern. Don't you think it helps to know we are not alone in this process?
Another reader shared this:
“My mom passed away May 2019. We are still sorting her things. I wasn't ready to move anything until June 2021.”
One woman who cared for her mother for many years agreed saying, “It’s going on two years and I’m just getting started.”
And what about those who do manage to tackle the clearing out of items? As I shared with all of you, it was difficult taking mom’s clothing items to that donation service. It felt like some kind of betrayal.
One reader shared an experience I fear many will face: the truly tough emotions that come about when you have to also part with a home and property.
“Selling the house was unbelievably painful. It was like they died all over again. We had a garage sale and I don't know what was worse - selling stuff or that no one wanted their stuff. Eventually, the furniture no one wanted was put out by the curb and hauled to the dump.”
Can I just say, my heart is breaking just thinking about all the various emotions we must work through. I for one, am glad we're talking about this issue and sharing.
But then, another reader shared this and it made me realize that yes... every bit of information we can share is valuable.
“I am glad you asked this question because it seems many people are eager to help you move forward when you are not emotionally ready. My parents are still living and we have not started to rid the home of a lot of personal belongings. Is this a normal reaction?”
Another reader then offered up some guidance:
“My suggestion would be to slowly get rid of paper, old mail, cards etc. then work your way through nick nacks.”
Still others shared that what triggered a strong emotional response during the ‘letting go’ process was not necessarily an item(s) but rather a sensation.
“Going through all of my mom’s belongings was really difficult and having to sell them and part with most of them was heartbreaking at times. I was able to give things to friends and family so they went to people who cared about her and loved her. One of the hardest things though was smelling her scent on different things. It was like she was there but not."
I think the point here, is that each of us is going to have to face this task at some point and it is perfectly okay to say, ‘Hey, I’m just not ready to do that yet.’
For now I’ll leave you with this memory. Remember I said I found a donation agency that worked with a women’s shelter and that's where I took my mother's items?
Well, years ago while in South Florida and volunteering with a clothing drive with the organization Women in Distress, a widower showed up with bags and bags of clothing and some household items. Nice stuff, too!
He had two young daughters in tow. I thanked him for such a generous donation.
The reason why there was so much? He told me he had recently lost his wife to breast cancer. He knew all of his wife’s belongings would no longer be used in the household.
He said he wanted and knew his wife would have wanted someone else to make good use of her things. He added, that such a gesture would also teach his daughters a lesson in generosity. Wow… such strength.
Guess who started crying while filling out his donation receipt? Okay, I’m getting emotional again so I hope this discussion on this topic has been helpful in some way.
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