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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fragile: Handle with Care!

The packing is almost done, where do I put this, what do I do with that.  So many things to go through, so many things to give away, oh so many things.  We have all had the task of packing things.  It is back to school time and so many of us have helped our kids pack, bundled everything into the car and headed off with them to college. 

If you have ever had to move, you know how tedious it can be; wrap the crystal, label the boxes, get a dumpster.  Then there is the unpacking and trying to find a new home for everything; you may even find yourself with some unpacked boxes months down the road.  It is a great opportunity to clean house, get rid of those items we haven't used in years and make a fresh start.

If you have lost a loved one, you know all too well how painful the packing can be.  Some of you do it right away, better to get it over with; others still years later have not touched a single thing.  My daughter was living on her own and the house in which she rented with three other friends, was being sold by the owner.  So my husband and I had no choice but pack up her things right away.  We rented a U-haul, packed an overnight bag and off we went.  

When we arrived at her place, her roommates and some of her friends where there to greet us and give us a hand.  After tearful hellos and some reminiscing, my husband, two children and I with the help of her friends, began the task of going through her things and packing.  My daughter took on the task of going through her clothes, my son would carry out whatever we had finished packing, and her friends and my husband started loading up furniture.  I had the task of sorting through her paperwork, putting aside things that needed immediate attention, things that I could look at later, and some items I just didn't have the heart to throw away.  

It was bittersweet and exhausting, especially when her scent still lingered in the room, and her very presence permeated everything we touched.  We finally stopped, took her friends out for a bite to eat and then came back to her home.  My husband and I slept in her bed that night, and we both honestly can say it was the best nights sleep we had had in a long time.  If felt good to be where she had called home for almost a year, a place she loved very much, a place near the ocean.  It was a beautiful location, rich in character and steeped in old fashioned tradition, she adored it.  

We arose the next morning ate breakfast with her roommates and finished the task of packing what remained.  We put the last items in the U-haul, closed the truck and went in for a final inspection.  As we headed in it began to rain, it was as if the skies felt our pain and let loose when everything was packed away.  We said our good-byes, promised to keep in touch and headed out the door into our uncertain future.  As we drove along the highway the rain began to subside and as we took our exit to head home, a double rainbow came into view.  It was the most beautiful rainbow we had ever seen, and the fact that we could see two complete rainbows made it that much more incredible.  We all knew it was Rachel's way of saying everything is going to be alright, and I'm okay.  

Hopefully many of you have already been able to pack up your loved one's belongings.  If you have not that is okay too.  Like I have said many times before, you need to do what feels and is right for you.  Only you know what you can and cannot handle at the moment.  Take heart, you will eventually begin to go through their things, you may at first find yourself just holding them, touching them and gently putting them back in their places.   Eventually you may find that you start giving somethings away, you may wish to donate their clothing to charity, find a home for the furniture, and so on.  

When Rachel died, my daughter kept of few articles of clothing and some shoes for herself, and my son kept all her sporting equipment.  The rest of her clothes were donated to a local charity that helped young women get a fresh start, and her bedding and some of the furniture that we could not use was donated to a woman's shelter.  In the true spirit that was Rachel, she continued to help others even in her death. 

You may not be sure what to do or how to begin.  The best place to start is with your loved one, what were they like, what did they value?  Let this guide you as to how to proceed, as to what to do next. 

We have lost many family members and in each instance their personal belongings were packed up differently.  My mom for instance still has a few of my father's clothes hanging in their closet 10 years later.  When my father-in-law died, my husband and his siblings took care of packing, donating and disposing of his items.  My grandfather couldn't even be in the same room or watch us take any of my grandmother's belongings, he wanted nothing to do with it.  He couldn't bear to see her things being packed away and the drawers being emptied, it hurt too much.  

If you find that this task is too much for you, ask for help.  Maybe you are not ready to get rid of anything just yet, but they could be packed away until you are ready to go through them.  Again, whatever works for you is what you do.  If you decide to take on the task, allow yourself to feel their presence in their belongings, smell the cologne that may still linger on a sweater, maybe even their own signature scent.  Let your self cry, I saw a simple quote today that reminded me that it is okay to grieve and cry - "Tears are God’s gift to us.  Our holy water.  They heal us as they flow. " ~Rita Schiano, Sweet Bitter Love, (1997, published by The Reed Edwards Company); so allow yourself to be healed.  Let yourself laugh and smile as you come across reminders of who they were, what they loved to do and what made them special to you.  Share the task with someone or do it alone.  

But know this for certain, that you are only packing away their belongings, the individual is still very much a part of you.  You are not betraying them, you are not putting them away, you are merely packing away what cannot no longer be used.  I chose to keep items that I know meant something special to my daughter, as well as things that held sentimental value to me, and I occasionally will pick them up and remember my daughter.  It is my way of keeping small tokens of who she was around me.  

You will find your way through this, you will pack away some things, donate others and yes you will find a place for some, but most importantly you will find a fresh start, strengthened by the love you shared.  And remember: "Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal." ~From a headstone in Ireland.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

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