Coping With Loss
When grieving the death of a loved one, it is often difficult to let go of his or her physical belongings. Here’s what you can do to approach those possessions once again
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Recently I have seen close family members, and even my best friend, pass away. I have quite a few items in my home that are either theirs, or from them, and I started wondering if it is bad to keep these things. Everywhere I look I am reminded of their absence in my life, and it makes me so sad, yet I am reluctant to let these things go. What is your advice?
I know how difficult it is in life when challenges happen one after another, and when these challenges come in the form of losing multiple loved ones, it is even harder. As I write this, know that I am holding you lovingly in my thoughts as you heal and find new meaning in your personal journey.
I am often asked how to “properly” weave a deceased loved one’s things into daily life. What is “right” when it comes to keeping the gifts, possessions and photographs of those who have passed? Cultures around the world have various customs and rituals that friends and family participate in to publicly honor those who have passed, but what do we do when we get home and have to privately decide about the physical things?
Where to start
It doesn’t sound as if your family member lived with you, but if so, and if you haven’t done this already, remove his or her personal items as soon as possible. Things like toothbrushes, shavers, brushes, clothing, etc., serve no purpose in your environment except to remind you of the void, and immediately removing these items will be helpful. If you are unable to bring yourself to do that, ask a trusted friend to help you.
Having too many of your loved one’s things in your home before you complete your grieving can trigger more pain from the loss than inspire joy from the memories. If it’s too soon to decide what to let go of, put some items away in a box or out of sight for now, and go through them after some time has passed.
Next, as you are healing from your grief, rather than feel guilty about parting with your loved one’s possessions, remember that his or her memory is in your heart and not in the items.
How much do you keep?
Because something like this is so personal, do what feels right for you. Consider keeping a small number of special things, carefully choosing items that embody your loved one’s spirit and remind you of his or her innate essence and personality, including items that carry special memories. In this case, less is always more. Any remaining items can either be shared with others who might find them meaningful, or donated, if they are still in good shape and can be used.
Though I don’t know how comforting words written in a newspaper column can be in the wake of your grief, hopefully they will be of help to you on your healing journey.
Losing those we love
Why is it so hard to lose those we love? After all, we all know that death is part of life. I think, in part, it’s because we believe that life will never be the same without that individual, and in our grief, we wonder how we can ever be happy again, especially when the relationship is a particularly close one.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a few people stuck in grief, unable to move on with their lives. Subconsciously, they believed that the pain of the loss was keeping them connected to the one they loved, or that if they felt happy again it would diminish the importance of the relationship or would be a betrayal. This is absolutely not true.
Over the last decade, I have spoken countless times at funerals, stressing that when people we love die, our relationships with them do not, because they exist in our hearts forever. How we feel about them and the memories created together are always with us, and though the pain of losing them will diminish, the meaning they have brought to our lives remains.
What I’ve learned about grieving
I’ve found that everyone grieves differently, and it’s important not to compare your experience with others’. Some people like to talk about those they’ve lost, while others do not.
Don’t worry or have expectations about when you will feel better. Nothing is forever, not even the pain of your loss. Allow yourself to feel the pain of your loss; don’t try to repress or avoid your emotions, and you will find that things will slowly start to improve.
One day, you may wake up and realize that you are actually looking forward to something; or you might hear a joke and catch yourself chuckling unexpectedly, or you may feel “ready” to go somewhere you once felt like avoiding, and then you will know you are moving forward.
When we are surrounded by death, it can serve to remind us of the importance of life. Be gentle with yourself during this time and look for the beauty that your loved ones have left you. As Sufi Epigram so wisely said, “When the heart grieves over what it has lost, the spirit rejoices over what it has left.”
Alice Inoue is the founder and Chief Happiness Officer at Happiness U, a friendly educational establishment at Na Lama Kukui (formerly known as Gentry Pacific Design Center) on Nimitz Highway. At Happiness U, you’ll find dozens of inspiring classes all geared toward personal growth, helping you live a more purposeful and ease-filled life. Visit www.YourHappinessU.com.