By Kelly Corkery
The first time I helped a client clear out the possessions of a deceased loved one from their home, I pulled over on the side of the road and wept. The enormity of having my vehicle full of objects belonging to someone who died was not lost on me.
I later called to check on my client because I know, from my own personal experiences, how difficult it can be to let go of the physical objects left behind by someone you love. As you can imagine, they were feeling raw but also lighter and very grateful that they didn’t have to do it alone.
As an Organizer, I’ve had the privilege and sorrow of working with many clients in need of these types of services. The circumstances are different; some are tragic and unexpected losses. Some are terminal illness diagnosis while others are inherited situations with generations of bequeathed treasures. Often, I assist years after the death of their loved one. Grieving doesn’t have a deadline.
It’s not all sadness and tears, and yes, there are tears but there’s also laughter and joy. Just as frequently, objects trigger fond reminiscences and happy memories. I’ve experienced moments of triumph when a cherished personal effect is unearthed after being assumed lost for years.
Overwhelmed. That is the word most frequently used when I’m speaking with individuals about bereavement cleaning. Organizing and grief cleaning is emotional and physical work. Oftentimes, parting with your loved one’s possessions and cleaning out their private spaces is one of the most difficult things to face after a death. It’s daunting and may feel as if you are throwing out part of your beloved’s lifetime. Having appropriate support is crucial, either in the form of family and friends or a professional. Ask for help.
The physical aspect of sorting may also be formidable, especially for seniors. Additionally, deciding on where the stuff goes and getting it there are other things to consider. As an Organizer, I always discuss this with my clients beforehand. Once keepsakes and bequeathed items are accounted for, I suggest coming up with a plan on what charities are best suited to received donations. I find this helps reduce stress and guilt; it offers comfort to families when they know their loved one’s things are going to help others in need.
There are many options when it comes to donating. Some clients prefer that donations are distributed locally while others can’t bear the possibility of seeing someone at the grocery store in a familiar sweater. That’s understandable.
Take your time. It doesn’t have to be done in a rush unless a move is imminent. Some people have many possessions so it can be a long job. When my father died, it took my sister and I and our partners two entire weeks, working 8 plus hour days to clear out his estate. It was no small task. Take breaks. Go at your own pace. If you get upset, set the job aside and make a cup of tea, go for a walk, or grab some lunch.
Stuck? Can’t decide on what to do with something? My best advice is not to force the issue. Set it aside and keep moving. You can circle back to it when you are ready. My sister and I used a clearly labeled box whenever we encountered emotionally loaded objects and weren’t prepared to decide right away.
Bereavement cleaning serves as a reminder that things don’t last forever, including us. It’s not an easy concept but it’s an inevitable reality.