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Tangible Grief - 5 Tips on handling the items your loved ones left behind.

My husband, Jason, passed away the month our apartment lease was up. This left me with very little time to move out of our apartment. I initially looked at it as such a burden. How could I possibly go through the home we shared so soon after his passing and decide what I'd keep, what I'd donate, and what I'd give as a gift to someone else without his help. In the end, I realized this was a blessing in disguise, because it forced me to handle all the things that he left behind and solidified that I needed to keep moving forward. I often hear of people leaving their loved one's clothes in the closet for years on end, or leaving their bedroom untouched for months. I didn't have that option. It made his passing so tangible. It was an angle of grief I wasn't expecting. So, here are my top 5 tips on making that process easier for you.


1. Mentally prepare yourself before you start.


The process of going through your late loved one's items will undoubtedly be emotionally difficult and draining. Make sure you are in a frame of mind that is calm. If you are feeling extra stressed, or anxious that day, leave it for another day. As I went through my late husband's guitars, books, clothes, shoes etc. I asked myself, what would he want me to do with these? I put myself in a frame of mind that was almost as if he was helping me, rather than me grieving over those items, or letting myself get sad over the life we once had.


2. Tackle the hardest items first.

When I started to pack up our apartment, I purposely went through the closet first to handle his clothing. I knew this was going to be most difficult for me, because he was very particular about his clothes, and he had a collection of band shirts he deeply cared for. When I was packing up, I forgot there was a laundry basket which contained some of his clothing. The smell of his shirts brought back a wave of memories and created a storm of emotions. After taking time to compose myself, I kept going. The rest of the moving process went more smoothly since I tackled those items first. If I could get through the most difficult part, the rest wouldn't be so bad.


3. Take your time!


No matter how much you try to prepare, there will inevitably be something that'll trigger a storm of big emotions. Weather it's your loved one's favorite article of clothing, or their book collection, there will be moments you need to take some time and just grieve their loss. There was nothing like staring at my husband's guitar, sitting exactly where he last left it to remind me I'd only hear him play again through recordings. In those moments, I'd sit with those emotions for however long I needed, and then kept going. If it was too much, I'd handle it another time. But don't rush yourself.


4. Enlist the help of others.


When I was packing up my apartment, it was so helpful to have family and friends there to help. It was nice, not only because having extra hands while moving is always a plus, but we'd tell stories of my husband any time an item triggered a special memory. It made this difficult task a bit more lighthearted, and it kept our spirits up.

5. Get organized!


Decide upfront how you want to handle your loved one's items. For me, I had 3 piles- keep, donate, gift. Designate areas of your home to those piles and sort the items accordingly as you go through them. It also helps to have someone running the "donate" pile often to Goodwill or Salvation Army so you don't have to keep looking at those items as the pile gets bigger and bigger.


I hope you found this list helpful! It is definitely a different part of grief that is difficult to go through. Once it's done though, it's almost like a weight lifted off your shoulder. Stay strong through the process, and trust that everything will turn out okay.


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