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Cleaning Out and Organizing Memories of a Loved One

cleaning out loved ones


The Baby Boomers of the 60’s that planned on changing the world and living forever are facing mortality. Ben Franklin said it, as did Joe Black, “Two things in life are certain, death and taxes”. Somehow, we thought things would be different. For most of us, we are watching as our Silent Generation family members fade off into a deafening silence from which they never return. We stand confused, trying to reconcile our memories of life and laughter with the emptiness. It seems during the funeral is the time we most want to ask questions and reminisce with the one that is gone. In the midst of grief and schedules suddenly changed, there are countless decisions and many business issues to work through. There will inevitably be mistakes, regrets, and feelings hurt but even in these first painful days, healing can begin.

It is a good idea to write thank you notes while family is still together in the day or two following the service. Many time co-workers or in-laws will express their sympathies and the spouse or other immediate family members may not recognize the names or be aware of the kindness considered them. Addresses may not be available to them either. Generally, the funeral home or mortuary will make thank you cards available or packets of note cards can be purchased at a dollar store, stationary store, or be hand made. Doing this together helps everyone to know all that has occurred. Often donations are made, food is carried in, or flowers are delivered and not everyone knows it. It is a comfort and encouragement to know people are concerned and thinking of you. Some acknowledgement should be sent to those that have sent flowers, made donations, or demonstrated kindness in a tangible way. Cards might also be sent to those that participated in the services such as a minister, pianist, pallbearers, or someone that babysat small children or stayed at the residence during the services. Doing this together will also make a huge task more manageable. Even if Grandma is only able to stick stamps on envelopes it will help. It also creates an environment for sharing stories and catching up with lives of family and friends. It is a good idea to have a master list and indicate in some way who has been acknowledged and who has not.

Cleaning out closets is a task no one looks forward to. For those that have lost a child it may be awhile before they are ready to make any changes in the room. Generally for an elderly loved one, it is the next thing to do and often there is a peace when it is accomplished. It should be done by more than one person. There are probably several personal items that evoke memories and will be treasured by family members like a well-worn cowboy hat or watch that will need to be kept and handed down to honored recipients. Everyday clothing and such can be donated to Good Will, Salvation Army, or homeless shelters or even recycle centers. It should be removed and donated as soon as possible but make sure you check the pockets first. The Lion’s Club and other community organizations will accept glasses and hearing aides. It can be an encouragement to think of these things being used by someone that needs them. There may be family members or friends that take clothing and make a memory quilt or wall hanging to remember the loved one that has died. A friend of mine was recently given a beautiful stuffed bear sewn and dressed from the clothing that belonged to her mother-in-law. They had even sewn on grandma’s charm bracelet, watch and some other jewelry. My friend is expecting her first granddaughter and what a treasured heirloom that will be to pass down to her. For many people today, lifestyles do not allow us to accumulate a lot of sentimental memorabilia. It might be a good time to take a picture of Brother in Grandpa’s hat and boots. The picture can be saved in an album or digitally. It is also a good time to remember positive stories about the loved one.

Boxes of photographs and scrapbooks seem to appear at these times. It is the perfect time for one or two tech savvy young people to scan pictures on to a computer and then make sure each family member gets a copy on a DVD or flash drive. Even if you don’t want copies of all of them, it is better to get them now than wish you had later.

Medical supplies should also be considered now. Prescription medicines need to be disposed of properly and quickly. Many police stations accept prescription medications or will tell you how to get rid of them. Giving them to a friend may not be the wisest decision. Hospice organizations are a great resource to tell you who will accept walkers or wheelchairs or other equipment. They are also a wonderful resource for information on grieving.

The death of a loved one changes everything and we all react in different ways. For the spouse or those closely related, dealing with ordinary tasks can seem overwhelming. Family members each have their own talents and may jump in and do what they do best such as cooking or organizing. Appoint one or two people to keep track of business appointments and information. It is a good time to recognize each other’s strengths and appreciate them.

Cleaning up after the funeral should not be left to those that are hurting the most. Everyone can pick up after himself or herself, be aware of other’s needs for privacy, and respect one another’s loss. It’s not the time to take what you would like to have because you have fond memories of it. However, it might be the time to plan future events. Some personal items that are to be saved should be put in containers and stored. Furnishings need to stay with the survivor until they are ready to make changes. For now enjoy the stories that come to mind and share them with each other. Memories are to be treasured, shared, and enjoyed. Unfortunately, they are easily forgotten. Having a journal to write things in personally or a journal to be shared can be beneficial.

Helping survivors adjust to a new way of life takes time. Be encouraging without being pushy and help each other to functional and positive.

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