My mom was a bit of a conundrum. She was not a princess, but she loved wearing a heavy diamond on her finger (I should say, on most of her fingers). She was not a fashion queen, but the woman had a closet bigger than most people’s bedrooms. Really, it had a TV and chaise lounge. It’s something that used to make us all laugh but, when she left us, that place became sacred, and painful.
I slept in her closet for days following her death – it was like we were still together; her smell and her aura clung to the room. I hugged her sweaters in disbelief and they convinced me that she wasn’t really gone. She had just worn that outfit a few days ago… her laundry was still fresh in the bin.
Everyone has their thing – their hardest thing; their I don’t want to go there thing. Mine was her closet. I am not usually one who deals with things by avoidance, but I stamped a big fat “A” on that one; I didn’t want to think about empty shelves or cold walls replacing her warm, familiar things. I envisioned her being scattered like ashes as her stuff was dispersed – I would have no control over where she’d end up.
But it had to happen, and it happened sooner than later. I will tell you, however, that it was easier to move on afterwards than it was to anticipate it happening – I learned a lot about letting go of the things I most tightly clench in my hand. The lessons were this:
- An object is not a person. Lucky for me, I used to watch a lot of Clean Sweep on TLC… They were forever reminding people that memories are stored in our minds, not in things. It’s true, objects can remind us, but we hold the memories. In fact, I’ve found that some items that I’ve kept have even been devalued by my keeping them – memories associated with these objects change from what they were when she was here to what they are now in my own house; they have returned to their pure state of “thingness” and lost their warmth.
- What I expected to comfort me often became a burden. I assumed that as long as I held on to her stuff I wouldn’t have to deal with the emptiness – it would fill the void and free me from the loss. In reality, some of these things actually weighed me down… I can’t get rid of this or she will be gone! If this item disappears I will forget everything! It was burdensome and produced fear. In reality, letting go of physical objects, without holding them responsible for my okayness, is what actually freed me.
- It had to be in stages. Some things are impossible to give up at first, and that’s okay – our minds and bodies only let us handle bits at a time. My “mom collection” gets smaller as time goes on; I no longer have the same emotional ties to the things which I could not let go of in the beginning. Letting it happen naturally over time has significantly reduced the pain of the process.
- Letting go had to be creative. Pulling all of her things out of the closet, stuffing them in bags and shipping them off to a thrift store would have made the situation cold and unbearable. Of course, some of that happened, but to be creative about it made things even almost enjoyable at times… almost. For example, thinking about who my mom would want to help with a clothing donation, or asking her friends to pick out their favorite items of hers. It took away the mystery and the lack of control about where her things would go.
- Holding on had to be creative too. When it came to keeping things, I knew I would never wear her clothes, and I didn’t like the thought of them hanging in my closet for the rest of my life because I couldn’t let go. How could I keep things in a way that they would acutally be loved and used? I took some time to think about how this could be done outside of the box. One thing I came up with was to pick out some memorable pieces of clothing and save them to make a blanket for my future kids – I can’t wait for them to get their first Nana hug with it. Her clothes would have eventually lost their meaning hanging in my closet, but the blanket will hold her aura and pass her spirit on to others. This and similar ideas have helped me to focus on keeping what will create more memories, and letting go of things that will get lost on the shelf.
There is so much else that could be said about this process, but each of us has our own experience and we gain our own understandings as we travel through it. I invite you to leave your own words of wisdom for us here. Thank you all for sharing the journey.