There are many ways to process the loss of a loved one.
My mother, Doris, transitioned into the non-physical suddenly. Our family, friends, and community were shocked. My Dad had cancer, so almost everyone believed he would die before she did. Surprise! There was a plot twist, and he would be with us for a bit longer.
Intuitively, I felt Doris was unwell. I had invited her to numerous conversations about her health or lack thereof, but she declined them.
After she died, I felt lost. Somehow I got the idea that I was supposed to clean her closet. In hindsight, I wanted to clean her closet because it gave me a sense of control when I felt out of control.
The day before I started that daunting task, I surveyed her room. She collected a lot of stuff over the years. I opened her closet doors. It was packed full of stuff. I would have to dig through many shoes and boxes to reach the floor, and the top shelves had warped from holding too much stuff.
I opened her dresser drawers and smelled the fragrant soaps she kept in her lingerie drawer. Some drawers were overflowing with stuff. I had to do a quick 'push-down-with-one-hand-and-close-the-door' maneuver with the other to close them.
Mom was uncomfortable getting rid of anything. When I brought up that topic, her response was, "I might need that someday."
I looked around the room and thought, why do people think they need so much stuff?
"Mom, I guess we can get rid of things now. It's not like you will need any of this anytime soon. You were supposed to do some of this, so I would have less to do now." I said aloud. Doris would have laughed, and my eyes grew misty as I remembered her distinctive laugh.
I had my work cut out for me. I knew I would cry a lot too.
The following morning, I got up early and made myself a cup of green tea. I found some empty boxes in the basement and brought them into mom's bedroom. I opened the closet doors, pulled garments out, and placed them on the bed. Some of the clothes carried big stories. There was the navy blue dress she wore a lot in the summer when we were kids. I always like that about her. In the back of her closet, I found the long gowns she wore to weddings and other formal events. I have pictures of them, so I was ok letting them go. Besides, they would never fit me. She also kept some clothes she had worn before I was born or maybe when I was a baby. I have no recollection of them. They went into the donation box.
There were a few things that I wanted to keep including her blue fair isles sweater, a few scarves, aprons, and other miscellaneous items that had sentimental value.
There was so much to uncover. I found cards, letters, and photos hidden in a dresser drawer. I set them aside to look at later. I laughed out loud when I discovered 72 pairs of unopened pantyhose. Knowing Doris, she thought it was a good idea to have a few on hand, just in case.
Oh my God! The pink and white polka dot apron! It screamed the 1970s, and it was a fixture in her closet, but I hadn't seen it in years. I loved it and cried when I remembered her wearing it when we made cookies. It was going home with me!
My Dad, who had been at the coffee shop, came bounding into the house, 'Hey Andrea, why don't you call Beatrice? She wears about the same size as your mom. She might be interested in some of her stuff." I cringed. I thought Dad's suggestion was tacky. However, he was known for his generosity and enjoyed giving to others. His discomfort with letting go of mom's stuff seemed to diminish as the prospect of improving Beatrice's life increased.
I called Beatrice.
To my surprise, she was interested in any items we planned to donate. I asked her to come over that afternoon to sort through any items we were giving away.
When Beatrice arrived, she offered her condolences. Then I showed her to my mom's bedroom. On the right side of the bed were the clothes and shoes we planned to donate. She was welcome to try on anything she wished from that pile and to take home whatever worked for her.
Beatrice sorted through the pile. Occasionally, she would stop to look at a piece of clothing and say, "I remember when Doris wore this. It was...."
Beatrice and I were both Norwegians from southwestern Minnesota. We knew the stoic rules of loss. We were to show no emotion, so I could not look at her when she was reminiscing about something my mom had worn. So, instead, I bit my lip, avoided eye contact, and said, "Yup, she wore that." Then, I would find an excuse to quickly leave the bedroom to pull myself together. Upon return, I pretended I had left something in the other room or that my contact lens was bothering me.
Doris's clothes and shoes fit Beatrice. We filled her car with the stuff. She drove home, emptied it, and returned for more. I noticed that my attention had shifted from my loss to Beatrice's joy. She was excited about what she had found and thanked me profusely for my generosity. It felt good that we had made her day.
My closet cleaning experience taught me that my mom was not in her stuff. Yes, sorting through it brought back memories, but those memories of her were, and still are, in my heart and mind. It was ok to let her stuff go to someone who was excited to give mom's stuff a new life, and it made me feel good.
There are many ways to process loss, like me processing the loss of Doris, my mom, by sorting through her closet and giving her stuff to someone who would give it a new life. If you or someone you know is processing loss, consider a gift box filled with positive rituals, care, and love. Sometimes, the simple act of giving one of our gift boxes helps someone find a way of processing loss.
Thank you for reading,
Founder @ Robiins
Processing loss. One gift box at a time.™