Deciding What to Keep After Death

What to do with your loved one’s belongings?

After the death of your loved one and you haven’t already thrown away their belongings, now it’s the time to sort through their possessions they left behind. It will certainly be a difficult, painful task, especially with the knowledge at how your loved ones used and cherished their own stuff while they were still alive.

In the midst of the grief, you’re asking, what am I going to do with that person’s stuff? Now is the time that you need to decide which of the things to keep and which of them to be disposed of.

Take your time

If at all possible, take your time in sorting through your dead loved one’s possessions. There’s nothing to hurry about — don’t feel the pressure, take it slow, and go at your own pace. People have their own way of dealing with grief. Some can recover in just a matter of months, while others take a number years before finally accepting the fact that the person will never be there for them again.

The same approach also applies to keeping and throwing away his or her possessions. Some people only need months, while others wait for years and years before they finally have the courage to take the task of organizing the stuff their loved ones left behind. Don’t throw away the things until you’re really ready to say goodbye to certain items, especially those things which you now consider as worthless.

Over time, you will be able to let go of more things. You don’t have to feel frustrated or regretful over certain things that are of no use. For instance, dispose of the old mirror your grandmother used during the 1960s. Donate it to the thrift shop, or to other people who might need it more.

Items that connected to you and your loved ones

Keep the things that brought you connection between you and your departed loved ones. Photographs, letters, little notes you and your loved one to each other, the books that you used to like to read together, that stuffed toy your grandmother gave you on your birthday, the little poems that your father scribbled and read for you when you were little. While going through these stuff, you can’t help getting brought into tears, as well as some smiles and laughter. Overpouring of emotions is inevitable while you’re sorting through his or her possessions.

Items that will bring you fond memories

Some people keep certain clothing items of their departed loved ones which will bring fond memories to the bereaved. One woman in Chicago, whose father just died, told her mother not to wash that stained and worn gardening shirt her father wore. She wanted that shirt to stay as it was — the smell of her father’s sweat, the dirt, and the sunshine — just like her father smelled when he was still alive. Even now, the daughter would take out her father’s soiled shirt out of the box, and then rubbed and squeezed it. That smell of her father might be gone, but the memories would still remain.

Even some pedestrian items that you once neglected will suddenly become valuable once you find them. Tucked in between your dad’s old books and other documents were the medical bills, receipts, and anything else that have your loved one’s handwriting like his signatures.

The rest of the clothing items and other things should be better donated to charity, in order to save room space and avoid possible clutter. I think letting go of many old items is hard to do, but it would be a form of acceptance of moving on and the fact that the person will never be around anymore to use them.

A little help from others will do

Unless you really need to keep certain things and dispose of others by yourself due to desire or necessity, it comforts to have a close family member or your best friend to help you through in this task. Having a very few close people helping you out is better. Like in the saying “too many cooks spoil the broth,” too many people who give you well-intentioned suggestions may exasperate you. They would even clash with each over their own ideas intended for you, and this will only make you feel more upset.

The things you’ve decided to keep will bring you happiness and fond memorires

There’s no doubt that these old, wonderful objects you have decided to keep will continue to bring more happiness. They will also give you time to look back at the fond memories you shared together with your loved ones when they were still alive.

I guess it’s instinct alone that will tell you to keep things that you value and cherish the most and that best honor your memories of your departed loved one. Even by just one look, you will recognize these special items in an instant, things that you know are worth keeping.

When you are done sorting through your loved one’s stuff, you should find a way to honor the treasured things you will keep. The best way to do it is framing and/or displaying these items so you can enjoy looking at them. These items can also be conversational pieces whenever you have a family gathering at home — through these treasures, you will be able to tell stories and reminisce about the good old memories with your family and friends.