Stuff – all of their stuff.

The Club of Loss has many different kinds of members and ways we have joined this illustrious group.  We all have different ways of dealing with the loss and ways of coping with having the rug pulled out from under us.

But the one thing that connects us – not knowing what the F to do with their stuff.

Do I keep it?

Do I sell it?

Do I give it away?

Do I burn it?

Do I put it in a dark bag , shove it in a corner, and pretend it’s not there for a few months (ok, maybe 13 months. ahem) ?

What in the name of all things holy does he want me to do with it?

I thought I was a horrid person because I hadn’t decided what to do with a TON of Jim’s things a full year and a half after he died. Then I talked to a friend of mine whose husband had passed away 4 years ago.  She basically started laughing at me when I told her how guilty I felt.  She said I would know when the time was right to decide.  And that it was fine, and to stop thinking I had to do exactly what he would have done.

I needed to get rid of the paralyzing feeling that makes me think that I need to honor him by obsessing over what he would want done with, oh I don’t know, a box of expired fake bait, for example.  Or an entire collection of camouflage Gander Mountain hats.

Their stuff is all we have left, so it occasionally feels like we are losing them all over again if we get rid of it too soon.

So please, if you know someone who is having trouble getting rid of someone’s stuff, be kind. To them, it is an extension of their loss and all they have connecting them to their loved ones.  The time will come when they are able to pass it along to others or sell it.  The worst thing you can do is give them a timeline.  It makes the hurt so much worse, and may make them keep it even longer.

If you are the one having trouble getting rid of stuff, be kind to YOURSELF.  It will be ok.  It will be better, and it won’t hurt as much – or at all. You might actually (gasp) start to enjoy it.

I write this on our 9th anniversary, and from experience.   I have started finding joy in getting rid of his things.  Not because it pushes him away, but because I know he is with me regardless of physical objects.  Some days I am more ok with it than others.  I know I’ll have days where I’ll weep over a 15 year old magazine that should be immediately be pitched.

But I’m pretty sure that’s part of the adventure ;).

What do I do with all of their things?

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13 Comments

13 Comments on Stuff – all of their stuff.

  1. Mark Edwardson
    July 9, 2014 at 6:47 pm (3 years ago)

    Beautifully written and very true..we have faced the same worries fears and thoughts with the loss of my dad 20 months ago. Putting the farm up for sale last week is just killing me however my mom cannot take care of it.

    Once again thanks for writing this..your not alone with these thoughts!

  2. David
    July 9, 2014 at 6:58 pm (3 years ago)

    Thanks H. As always, your strength helps carry many of us. Yeah, the stuff. I still have no idea how to let it go.
    As for Jim, this is about you now. I’m sure he would want you to do whatever is right for you. How you carry on honors him, and in a way, honors you too. Thanks.

  3. Diana De Paul
    July 9, 2014 at 7:59 pm (3 years ago)

    Thanks, Hannah. Very timely. 8 months out re my mom. Open closet…close closet. Put in charity box….store in garage. Touch..feel….put back in drawer. Keep her perfectly folded little trash bags in bottom of trash basket…get a new one from the pantry. Tell questioning friends..I’ll be ready when I’m ready. My heart will decide.

  4. Barbara Brunner
    July 9, 2014 at 8:28 pm (3 years ago)

    Hannah, you continually amaze me with your resilience. And your humor. You are a rock star.

  5. Kelly Ilebode
    July 9, 2014 at 8:45 pm (3 years ago)

    Oh, the pain of keeping it and the pain of letting it go……I laughed and cried through this… Deep breathes for sure either way…..

  6. Barb Cunningham
    July 9, 2014 at 11:05 pm (3 years ago)

    Hannah, there will be a few items you will want to keep forever. My dad died in 1989 and I still have a couple of his monogrammed handkerchiefs and a few pins he earned for X number of years of service. (He worked for Firestone Tire for more than 40 years.) My mom and aunt passed away a few months apart in 2002 and 2003. I still have many mementos from each of them. I found it easiest to dispose of the clothing, but these few items I will probably have forever. Whenever I’m feeling blue, these items allow me to have a good cry, a few laughs and then after awhile, to feel better and smile for the memories. When you lose someone you love, the hurt is deep, but the memories are so great.

  7. karen armstrong
    July 10, 2014 at 12:18 am (3 years ago)

    Dear Hannah,
    I certainly hope this makes it in that book you are working on. I so hope you are working on a book. Truly would be a best seller for sure.
    All things in due time as I have been told.
    I agree with the first poster….You continue to be an amazing, phenomenal woman.

    Always with kindness,
    just south of you. 🙂

  8. Anne
    July 10, 2014 at 1:08 am (3 years ago)

    Thank you Hannah.

  9. Vicki
    July 10, 2014 at 4:44 am (3 years ago)

    You, my dear, are an amazing woman. Your gift of sharing . . . words, photos, belly laughs . . . is inspired. I am so happy you posted the pic of John or I would never have found you (well, serendipity might have played here and I may have, who knows) ANYway, thanks for all the things you do to make this a better world. I am unspeakably sorry for your loss and I am excited to look in on your adventure from time to time. Thank you Hannah Stonehouse Hudson

  10. laura luongo
    July 10, 2014 at 4:19 pm (3 years ago)

    Ah, I have been on that path. My fiancé died and for months I kept EVERYTHING…that his charming children did not take. I had them in the closet and would sit in the middle of them and ‘smell’ him…..

    As time went on and I had moved to a smaller apartment, still with the amazing wardrobe of a man no longer alive…..I had to call the maintenance man. He noticed the wardrobe/shrine and said he did not know I had a ‘husband’. I realized that what I had was a ghost of a beautiful past. We talked for a long time. His name is Pedro and he told me about how he helps his family in Mexico. He very nicely told me that those clothes would help a lot of poor people in his home town. Suddenly ‘the light ‘ went on. This was where his clothes were supposed to do. I told him to get a truck, which he owned and we made numerous trips up and down the stairs to load up the truck. I kept a coat that fit me, a wristwatch and a photo for me. Several weeks later he came to visit me and told me that thanks of my gift, several men has nice suits to go job hunting and had gotten work. People were wearing the clothing and had a little bit more quality ti their life due to that. It was the right thing at the right time……

  11. Ruth Hasseler
    July 13, 2014 at 1:08 am (3 years ago)

    My partner is a widower, with no children, and his late wife had no close relatives. She died suddenly, and, as is very true to his character, he packed up her clothing almost immediately and donated it to charity. He gave her jewelry to people he thought she’d approve of, and, by the time I met him a year later, he had pretty much purged the house of visible personal reminders of her. But when I moved in, five years later, there was no room for me…closets and storage spaces were packed to the brim with her china, her books, and, silliest of all, a collection of tablecloths from a shop in St. John’s that she’d adored. My partner is a pragmatic person, and, although he obviously loved her very much, he worked through his grief by determinedly “moving on”, and the places I was trying to make mine were filled with her things, which were lovely, but, frankly, not to my taste and not needed. I felt like young Mrs. DeWinter in “Rebecca”; everytime I tried to unpack, I was stymied by her things that it had never occurred to him to clean out. As I write that, that looks cold and that was how I felt at the time…cruel. I didn’t want to disrespect her memory, but, as I contemplated storing my dishes while I left hers in the cupboard, it occurred to me that she was gone, while I was living, and that I was being ridiculous. I talked to my partner, told him about my feelings, and he assured me that packing up her things did not in any way diminish the way he felt about her. We kept them in the basement for a few years, until we bought a place that was ours. At that point, I was ready to give her stuff away…we found a home for a few things with friends, but ultimately, gave most of it to Goodwill. Right now, he is wrestling with selling her beloved sports car…he couldn’t do it right after she died, but he has cared for it meticulously. He likes it, but doesn’t find it to be really comfortable for rides any more, and would like something more to his taste. I tell him to think it through long and hard…he assures me that he has.

  12. Alison
    July 15, 2014 at 7:43 pm (3 years ago)

    Boy, does this bring back memories of that “to keep or part with” syndrome. Having had an abusive childhood, I wanted no part of my mother’s things. Then after an abusive marriage and destructive divorce, I wanted nothing of the few items that hadn’t been sold, damaged, etc. as if it were letting a curse or evil into my new place.

    However, it was a different story after the children were kidnapped. It hurt so bad for so long, and I knew that if they ever returned, they’d have no use for the childhood things, yet I was paralyzed with inaction. Many years passed before I was able to part with those things, finding it became easier because some needy child would benefit from the clothes and toys.

    So I became a person who believed in “paying it forward” and encouraged friends to let me have things they no longer wanted, because I could usually find needy families in my classroom who needed household items, or toys and clothing.

    Yes, be kind to yourself, be kind to others in this situation. Keep the real treasured items that represent that person, but don’t feel guilty about so many of the other items. We could all afford to look around and downsize a bit, couldn’t we?
    There will always be some moments of sadness and hurting, but time helps heal, and we come to realize that we carry that person and the love and memories forever in our hearts. They belong to you and no one else. The heart remembers the best of you two and is always part of you as you continue life’s journey.

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