I have tried to make it clear that I do not consider myself any sort of expert on grief. I was unwillingly thrust into grief when my wife Jean died and I have completely bought into a friend’s advice that “you cannot do grief wrong.”
A friend from high school recently wrote me suggesting I discuss the right time to discard your loved one’s personal items and clothes. I can say this with certainty: “I have no clue.”
I don’t know if it was right or wrong but I think I allowed myself to be pushed along by outside events. I did make a rather quick decision about moving out of our Minnesota apartment. If I am honest with myself that had everything to do with Jean dying there. She spent much of her last thee weeks on a blue denim couch. I could not get that couch out of there fast enough. And I needed to shed the negative memories of that apartment quickly.
When I got back to Arizona a Michigan friend offered to help me move Jean’s stuff out and I accepted without great thought. I think I figured it would have to go at some time so I would take advantage of the help. Jean’s clothes just never struck me as a key outlet for my grief.
I certainly cried when I discarded some things and there were a few items that made me incredibly sad. The good humor of my close friend helped me get through that. He was delightfully crazy and in grief that can be salvation.
However, it is obvious to me from talking to widows and widowers that discarding clothes is the hill many choose to stand on because they feel they are severing a key connection to their spouse. A widower I know well moved his wife’s clothes to a storage facility and then didn’t discard them for two years. The woman who wrote me she was miffed when so many friends offered to help her move her husband’s things. She said, “like I would want others to do it.” She added, “it seemed odd to me that people thought it would be helpful to offer to come in and clean out the closets.”
I think those friends are clearly sending a signal that she should empty her closets and that is none of their damned business. I know there are some who think I moved too quickly, but the journey is mine. The grief journey is so personal and unique to each individual that outsiders, even the ones motivated by deep love, need to let the grieving have their space.
The battle that widows and widowers fight is between yesterday and tomorrow. Each individual will choose a different path and true friends and loyal family should respect what ever choice the griever makes.