That time following the death of someone we love is filled with intensive work- physical and emotional. First, we have to deal with the body of our loved one. That part of the process in and of itself can be very emotionally draining. We have loved this person and we are left with a body that must be dealt with. We cannot escape dealing with the physical body following death. We then have to find documents and write an obituary. The list can go on. Even if we do not have to make decisions we still have the memorial and burial or whatever is planned to remember our loved ones to go through. We have to greet people and participate in the event. After we physically let go of our loved ones at the funeral, we find that we need to let go of their physical things and that is often a lengthy process and can exhaust us.
After the crowds have gone and most people have returned to their everyday life, there is still much work left to do. When I was deep in sorting through things, I found that the anger and deep sadness could be as strong or even stronger. I recall sorting through my mother-in-laws things, wishing I could speak with her again, but all I had left were her things. They are lovely things, but I would rather have another coffee with her and learn the things that went unlearned. It was all kind of horrific. I felt lost and broken, and I had this almost impossible job to do. During this time, I tried to take care of myself the best I could. I asked for help, but not just from anyone. I asked for help from people I knew would not criticize my process. I did not do the sorting all at once. I would make small trips and do things in sections. I did smoke through this time. I don’t know if I could recommend this, but what I do know is that I always try to take a harm reduction approach to things. Perhaps this was better than something else I did not do? I don’t know. I do know that I stopped smoking after completing the cleaning of these two homes.
If you find yourself sorting through the things left behind by someone you love dearly, be gentle with yourself. The work following death can be so huge that we might need to take it a little at a time. The emotional work can be as difficult and it is often intertwined with the physical work. Take your time and just do what you can when you can. I suggest having people around you who know and love you and whose advice you might be able to accept. If you are like me, I do not always respond well to someone telling me what to do, unless I know they are right. You might find there are those close to you who have had to do this work. Those might be the ones who can best offer the support that comes from experience. I also suggest trusting yourself. Listen to yourself because only you know what is possible for you. This part is more of a marathon than a sprint. Still, even if we think we have weeks or months to complete some of the work, we might find that a deadline looms. If you keep on pace and have a good support network, the task can get done. In a way, this long goodbye through sorting through her things gave me insight into her as a person that I would not otherwise have gotten. I felt very close to her, but still I would rather have had another coffee with her.