Purging sentimental items when dealing with burden, grief, and hope.
My mom died in 2015. She was young. It also wasn’t sudden though, so we had time to prepare in case the unthinkable happened. And it did.
When we returned to her home that she shared with her still-new husband of less than two years, he wanted me to (almost) immediately do what I wasn’t ready to do. He sent me in to their bedroom to clear out her closet, her nightstand, and items from her bathroom.
It was horrible and was maybe only 3-4 days after she died. I was NOT ready for something like that. It felt like he couldn’t wait to get rid of her. Intellectually I knew that wasn’t the case, but emotions are something we have less control over.
I was surrounded by family and friends and was mostly able to accomplish the task in a single afternoon. The only items he expressly wanted to keep were her wedding bands and a watch that he bought for her when they were on a cruise. Some items I gave to family and friends. Several I kept for myself. The rest was donated.
Since that time, I have managed to accumulate more items. Boxes of photos she’d had in the attic; her yearbooks, papers, birthday and holiday cards she had saved, many from me. LOADS of Christmas decorations and ornaments that I hadn't seen in years.
I did not push myself to part with many of these items. Most of her Christmas stuff stayed in containers last season, but this season, in my new apartment, I am going through them. Now with the distance of time I have noticed that items that I was desperate to hold onto before, are now viewed simply as items. There was, however, one item that has caused me some trouble.
A bag. A simple duffle bag. I also have other luggage items that I use routinely, yet this one I kept moving from place to place.
You see, on a Monday morning about a year before she died, I became ill. I drove myself to the ER and ended up having emergency surgery that afternoon. I called mom and she said she would try her best to get up to me to help; I was in upstate New York while she was in North Carolina. At that point she was no longer working as it was putting too much stress on her lungs. She also didn’t yet have portable oxygen tanks that could be taken on an airplane. Despite that, she flew up, and was in my hospital room the next morning. She stayed with me for that week, helping me do things around the house that I couldn’t, like cook and clean. But more than that; she was there to comfort me.
On one day in particular, towards the end of that week, we went on a little excursion to Corning, NY. I loved this little town and wanted to show it to her. We ate lunch, walked, took breaks when we needed to, and went into one shop where she bought the aforementioned bag.
I think that I had somehow managed to equate that bag with how much she loved me because of everything she had to do to be up there with me that week. Even though I rarely used that bag, I couldn’t part with it.
Well, this week I parted with it. I had decided that now was the time. The bag was being wasted in my very small closet. Instead of having it sit there, I would instead donate it to a shelter in hopes that someone who needed it much more than I did would make use of it. It was also exactly what she would have done. In fact, over the past decade, that is exactly what she did with items she no longer needed. I believe that her husband even donated her wedding dress for that very same reason.
And you know what? When I got home and saw the empty spot where that bag had been sitting, waiting to be donated… that bare bit of floor and wall was a source of relief. The memory of that bag and that day have not faded. The significance of that week with her has not faded. The memory of her has not faded. What I gained was a little more peace of mind, and that again is exactly what she would have wanted.
You do not have to purge items like these overnight. It may even take two years, or more, or less. It is emotionally taxing but with each item you are able to process and discard, you do gain a little something in its place.