As Anna and I chatted over dessert, however, I was surprised to learn that we were both facing the same challenge in letting go of our loved one’s possessions. In Anna’s case, she is letting go of a car that was given to her in recognition of the loving care she provided to her neighbor Lorraine, who died at home from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease. Even though she was not a relative, Anna worked with the on-site caregivers and Lorraine’s family members to make sure that Lorraine was well-cared for during the final years of her life.
It’s been over a year since Lorraine died, but Anna still finds it difficult to part with the car, which serves as a physical memory of her beloved neighbor. “I feel like I’m letting go the last piece of Lorraine,” Anna remarked, noting that she and Bob would be selling the car to Bob’s co-worker over the weekend. I told Anna that I knew exactly how she felt like.
For over a year, I’ve had a stack of Mom’s clothes sitting on a chair in my room. Another ten tubs of Mom’s clothes are parked in my garage. I haven’t been mentally able to go through these garments since they present a stark reminder that Mom is fading fast.
They symbolize much of what Mom has been –- the buyer for a major department store before marrying my father, a constant presence at the fashion markets, a subscriber to the women’s fashion magazines, and finally, a co-owner/buyer/manager/creative visionary for my parents’ independent fabric stores.
While watching a recent Oprah Winfrey show, I was interested to follow as interior designers Peter Walsh and Nate Berkus were given the task of helping a family let go of their departed son. During that show, the designers worked with the family in re-designing and updating the deceased son’s room in order to meet the family’s current needs. As I listened to the show, I found myself tearing up –- and realizing that I had found what was causing my emotional blockage in dealing with that pile of Mom's old clothes.
One of the tenets that Peter Walsh suggested during the show was that letting go of an item does not mean you are letting go of the loved one. Plus, holding on to these things can mean that you are holding on to the painful memories, as opposed to celebrating the person’s memory and moving on. I see that holding onto Mom’s clothes (many of which are not my style or do not fit well) or Anna holding onto Lorraine’s car (which Anna rarely drives) means that we’re holding on to a relic, not to something of that person that will give us joy.