“Help me remember you. I don`t want to get over you.”
-lyrics from Holly Near’s newest album, Peace Becomes You.
Lately, more than usual it seems, I’ve had organizing meetings with clients who are wrestling with the death of someone they loved. So these lyrics are in my mind a lot lately.
It’s natural for some people to adopt many things from this person who has passed away. We hold onto the objects because we are afraid we will forget the person or somehow dishonor their memory. So we end up with rooms, barns or our child’s old room filled with things belonging to that person.
I hope this blog will help some of you begin to move on, or if you live with someone and you can’t understand why he/she is holding onto “all these things,” maybe this will give you some clarity.
Plaque created by the monks at Weston Priority, Vermont
Are these just “her things,” the person who has passed away? No, not at all. And that’s key. These things are:
- Her memory, her legacy now that she is not here.
- Memory triggers. Memories we need to revisit, so we can begin to move on, the timing of which is very personal.
- Reminders of the relationship we had, joy-filled memories ….
- … or of the relationship we didn’t have (regrets, loss, longing, and ultimately a role in not creating the relationship we wanted)…
- or of the dysfunctional relationship we had and could never fix or come to terms with.
For the first two issues, answering these questions will narrow down which objects to keep, repurpose or add to a memory box: Who was she? What did she stand for? What did she love to do? What was your relationship about? What were her favorite things?
For the other bullet points above, the emotional aspects, I’ll share an expert’s words: Fred Luskin, Ph.D., says,
“Forgiveness is on a continuum with grief.
There is a reintegration process, which we call grief. ”
Dr. Luskin spoke at our Institute for Challenging Disorganization educational conference.
This is the part of organizing which clients tell me feels like “therapy,” because it’s more about feelings than things. We need to know how to handle sensitive and complex situations to some degree, but mainly, we need to understand our professional boundaries, i.e., at what point we suggest another professional for a deeper expertise than we are meant or trained to have.
So how do we move on? “Forgiveness out of grief allows you to move on, rather than clinging to your losses or failures.” Dr. Luskin outlines three important steps.
- Acknowledge it. Own the fact that there is a loss – that something you would have wanted is not there.
- Experience the feelings. Have you moved through the stages of grief? Too often, we set aside our grief, thinking we can go on with regular life and it’s just subside overtime. It doesn’t. It often gets worse and comes out in other ways, often not healthy. As he says, when you forgive yourself, you understand there are options.
- Grief and forgiveness can’t be a secret. Share what you need. Research about resilience says that when you tell people what’s happening, when you share your grief and lost hopes, your ability to move on is far greater.
So there are two pieces here to consider – the emotional piece, including grief and possibly forgiveness of the other person or yourself; and then the things and finding ways to keep your memories alive and as present as you need them to be in your life.
Dr. Fred Luskin has a powerful 7 minute video here. And search on his name for more talks. It’s worth the time.