After my daughter died, I became acutely aware of the gifts she had given my husband and me. One year, she gave us a step stool for Christmas because she was afraid our rickety one would collapse and injure us. Years ago, she gave me a counted cross stitch pillow for my birthday. Though she was skilled at needlework, I knew the pillow had taken weeks to make.
The house is filled with linking objects and, when loss was still new, I cried every time I saw them.
Nan Zastrow writes about linking objects in a “Grief Digest” article, “Linking Objects: When Can the Chain be Broken?” Her son committed suicide and she clung to “his meager belongings and mementos.” Like many grieving people, Zastrow thought she would forget her son if she let go of the items that linked her to him.
The time came, however, when Zastrow was willing to let go. She realized that letting go was “about releasing the clutter and the negativity surrounding the circumstances of his death and the undeniable loneliness caused by his absence in my life.” Letting go meant she was ready to move forward in her life journey.
Salman Akhtar, MD, writes about letting to in a “Jefferson Journal of Psychiatry” article entitled “Mourning.” He divides the possessions of the deceased into three groups: things to throw away, things to give away, and things to keep. Just as grief takes time, the willingness to let go of linking objects also takes time.
In our case, it took us a year to sort linking objects into these groups. Nine months after our daughter was killed, our twin grandchildren lost their father in another car crash. We were responsible for clearing out the house in preparation for selling it. Packing up linking objects, and the happy life they represented, made us sob, and we could only work at the house for an hour before we were overcome with grief.
Most of the contents of the house were donated to Minnesota flood relief. Once the house was cleared out, we felt better. Our grandchildren were so overcome with grief they could not think about possessions so we saved some things — Christmas decorations, their mother’s favorite pictures, and photos — for them. When they are older, they can decide which ones to keep and which ones to give away.
Today, when I see linking objects about the house, I think about the love behind these gifts. But I have to be honest. Every so often, I feel a twinge of grief and tears come to my eyes. According to Salman Akhtar, this is normal. As he explains, “No mourning is ever complete and, by implication, no lost object of our affection is ever totally given up.”
Stuff does not have to control our lives. If we are patient with ourselves, the time comes when we can let go of linking objects. We can move forward with life and create new memories for ourselves, our children, and grandchildren.
Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson