A difficult task to tackle after losing your spouse is dealing with the spouse’s belongings: what to keep and what to give away. It is such an emotional decision. You may have feelings of guilt and sadness that are overwhelming. Even though they are no longer with us, you may feel that you are intruding on their privacy by going though their personal belongings.
Remember grief has no timeline and neither does this task. Do not feel pressured into doing something you do not feel ready to do. If you are pressured into it by others then you may also harbor feelings of resentment. You are going through enough. You don’t need another emotion to add to your plate.
On the other hand, at some point, you will want to go ahead and do this. Keeping everything the same will leave you with a sense of staying stuck in your grief and might prevent you from healing the way you could otherwise. Here is what you need to remember. Getting rid of your spouse’s belongings does not mean you are getting rid of them. They will always be tucked in your heart as a treasured memory. No one can take that away from you.
When you feel the time is right, here are some things that may be helpful when dealing with a spouse’s belongings:
Ask a friend or family member to help. If you feel that you cannot handle it on your own, ask for help. Our loved ones want to be there for us during this time. They just don’t know what to say, what to do, or when to do it. Let me offer you a word of caution, however. Choose someone you know will be caring, patient and understanding throughout the process. You don’t want to have someone there who will be impatient and judgmental. Neither would you want someone there who would be affected emotionally almost as much as you would. You want someone there to help you as well as support you through it.
Ask loved ones if there is anything they might want and put it aside. For many of us, knowing their belongings will be going to someone special makes it easier to bear.
Don’t try to do it all one time. If there is a lot to go through, because it may include not only the home, but also the place of business, shop, office, garage, etc., then you may want to divide the sorting by rooms or spaces. It’s not a race, it’s a process. Start with the one that is the most pressing.
Decide what is worth keeping. Some things will not serve you to keep. They may be too much of a painful reminder. Some things may take up too much space, especially if you are downsizing to make room for a new hobby, a tenant, or moving yourself to a new location. Again, this bears repeating. Getting rid of their belongings is not getting rid of the memories. Those remain with you.
Grief is hard. It is life changing on several levels. During our grief we are required to do things we don’t want to do. Going through their belongings is one of them. Go through this process one day at a time when you and you alone feel ready. Eventually you will reach the other side of grief where it isn’t as painful to hear the mention of their name or see them in pictures. You will make it. You are stronger than you think. Hang in there.
Peggy Bell is the author of Life After Loss For Widows: Lifting the Veil of Grief, available here.
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