Letting Go of Mom's Possessions Without Losing Her

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • My friend Anna and I grabbed lunch recently to catch up. My time with Anna always proves to be thought-provoking, not only because she is a wonderful, caring person, but also because Anna and her husband, Bob, are experienced caregivers.  They helped Anna’s mother and two neighbors, one named Lorraine, through end-of-life issues. Because of their experience, Anna and Bob have been wonderful at “coaching” me in the multiple issues that I face with Mom’s end-of-life situation.

    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.
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    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.

  • The weekend after that show aired, I finally mustered up the courage to go through the pile of Mom’s clothes in my room; now there’s a large stack that will be headed to the resale shop or will be donated to charity. And I hope to make it through the tubs in the garage in the near future.
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    Anna and I agreed that it’s difficult to let go of the car and the clothes, but we also concurred that we need to hold on to those possessions that honor our loved ones and also which bring a positive energy to our lives.

    Learn more about the Oprah Winfrey Show’s segment on how Peter Walsh and Nate Berkus helped the family let go of their deceased son’s possessions.

    See Peter Walsh’s “Five Steps for Letting Go of Emotional Clutter

Published On: May 29, 2007