As many of you know, I served as a caregiver for an elderly relative for a while. Nine years to be exact. I’ve written a few blogs about it and even complained a bit on Facebook. Like many caregivers, I occasionally dreamed of the days when I could be free again to travel or work to my heart’s content.
In my mother-in-law’s final days, she needed intensive care, often pushing me past limits I had set for years. There were always things I didn’t want to do, mostly diaper changing and spoon-feeding. But when the need came, I did what’s necessary because we push our boundaries for those we love.
My mother-in-law eventually passed away as comfortably as I could make her. I was free again to do what I liked with my time. However, a void filled my life instead. I stumbled through the days after, trying to be effective and failing. I felt lost and unsure. Things needed to be done, people paid, boxes packed, but I felt at a loss to even begin.
Now a month later, the void eased back, but many tasks still lay ahead. I took on the burden of her estate. It is not the first time for me. I’ve helped other people six times in cleaning out possessions and moving forward with all the things needed in closing the final chapter on a person’s life. However, those people were friends and coworkers. Only once before did it feel so personal, so painful to filter through the intimate details of a person’s life
I began to feel irritated at her. It seemed like she had so much junk! How dare she die and leave me this mess to clean up! Of course, that thinking is wrong no matter how it feels. During the days, my time was filled with packing up donations, planning the selling of furniture, and making fair arrangements for everyone. At night, the nightmares came. Twisted dreams of doubt and guilt filled the nights until I came to hate the things left behind.
Finally, at my daughter’s suggestion, I eased back on the work, giving myself time to breathe. And grieve. The importance of my mother-in-law’s life shone through in those few possessions she kept until the end. The long gloves and vintage purses were mementos of dates and parties. The ornate pill boxes shone with memories of happy trips. The thirty-year-old furniture had filled her home. It became important to me to remember her life in dealing with her possessions. They helped me understand her more.
So I guess the moral of this blog is not to bury yourself in burdensome possessions and taint the memories of a person after they are gone. Clearing out the closets (or whole house) will always be painful. Get help from a friend or other relative. If you know of someone who had a recent loss, offer to help them when they are ready. Sometimes having mental distance is the best thing to get through those painful times. Remember that eventually the items will be gone, the estate settled, and everyone will return back to their own lives. However, your memories and love for the cherished person will live on.