I lived a lesson recently which I’ve often shared with clients over the years. Sometimes I don’t know how I know something. I just do. This is an example of that.
You’re pretty well ready to move after a parent, child or spouse/partner has died. You’re ready to begin making your home your own, without quite so many memories of the past to surround you and keep you in the past.
How do you decide what to keep or not. How do you honor the memory or legacy but move on with your own next chapter in life.
The advice I offer
Think about this quote from Ellen Goodman, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and then reflect on the answers to the questions I ask below.
“I have learned that what the next generation will value most is not what we owned but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we loved.”
What are the tales you would tell about your loved one?
What is the essence of this person you loved? Personality, values, character, strengths, hobbies/passionate interests.
What do you most want to remember about the person for years to come?
When you do this exercise, stay away from the belongings. Go somewhere that’s quiet and away from looking at the “things.” You’ll have a much easier time answering the questions when the objects are not in front of you, confusing your thinking (anyone’s thinking).
Taking my own advice
My aunt Fay passed away this summer. I have her middle name and my cousin tells me we were kindred spirits. I felt something like that but never named it. At the service, there was supposed to be time for us to express our thoughts. A mix up didn’t allow this, but I’d written down some thoughts in my favorite purple journal. I found some quotes, wrote some words, looked up the definition of her name. All to help me answer the question above, “What is the essence of Aunt Faysie?”
Perfectionist that I can be, and loving niece that I was/am, figuring out just the right, concise, honoring words to share was my own exercise in answering the question above. Partly that’s because of the opportunity to share about aunt Fay. Mostly because this is how I process – verbally, in writing or talking out loud. So for me, this was how to answer the question. For you, it may be a different method.
There happened to be one extra poster board on which we could post our Fay photos. So delve I did, into digital and paper photos. Yes, it was quite cathartic. The time with the photos gave me time to review our times together, figure out my favorites, and select the photos. The photos I will always have to remind me of her, as well as my words.
The words, written from the heart, I typed up and shared among family. I’ll always have the typed document and I’ve also saved any comments and reflections family offered because I had sent out what I had wanted to share. All helpful emotionally.
Reduce; don’t eliminate
Defining for yourself the essence of this person is useful because it focuses you on the unique aspects of the person and what he/she gave to you and your life.
Practically speaking, defining the essence of the person will help you keep objects which relate to the essence of the person.
Think about reducing and not eliminating. It’s not black and white here. If your loved one was a baseball fan, which three or four items could you keep to remind you enough?
And then think about who else in the family loves baseball as much as he/she did. What could you lovingly give away, knowing you are helping to pass along the person’s legacy — now that you’ve defined it for you, in your life. Reduce, don’t eliminate.
After family has a chance, then think about what organizations remind you of the person. Did he or she have Alzheimer’s and live the last days in a home with wonderful memories? What can you donate there ? Another way to keep the memories alive. And you can visit where you’ve donated to, as many people do. That helps, too.
Or if you’re a creative sort, can you make something to remind yourself of the person, using his/her belongings? A quilt, a display or shadow box of several favorite items, a collage.
The key is to remind yourself of what this person meant to you. Keeping your memories alive becomes easier once you do.