Grief’s Linking Objects – Why Do We Hold On?

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

Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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  • Ilene says:

    a month ago I lost my husband, my hospice grief counselor provided information learning, about my symptoms of extreme separation anxiety of loosing my beloved husband I would like to thank you for this valuable information to aid me in this venture of my new life without my husband. Thank you