Aug 28, 2011

Possessions of Your Loved Ones

I’ll never forget that day.

By Barbara Pursley

Possessions can take on a huge emotional significance before and after death. They can evoke tears and laughter.

When we moved Mom from home to assisted living, I decorated her room with all of her familiar possessions: dresser, bed, favorite recliner, sewing basket and the love seat where she did most of her napping. I wanted her to be surrounded by things that brought her joy and comfort. I placed her favorite quilt on her bed with the matching pillows, and hung all of her favorite family pictures.

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The decorating was fun, but then I had to return to her home that had been disassembled with a large portion of her possessions left behind. In fact, the house was full of stuff. Mom was 72 years old and she had collected a lot of mementoes during her life time.

I was in no frame of mind to make decisions on what to keep, give away, or discard, so I boxed and labeled Mom’s possessions: kitchen, pictures, clothes, collectibles, jewelry, shoes, handbags, miscellaneous. It was a sad day, but with my brother and the help of a close friend, we were able to get the job done. We stored the boxes in my brothers attic and I had decided to leave it be until I was emotionally strong enough to re-live the memories of her treasures and do the sorting.

Little did we know that after 6 weeks, the assisted living facility had decided Mom was too much trouble and asked us to leave. Again, we boxed and labeled Mom’s possessions in her apartment and stored them in the attic.

Next, we moved Mom into a nursing home. I decorated her room once again with family pictures and her favorite quilt and recliner. I placed a floral bouquet on her dresser along side her jewelry box, but today it was filled with only imitation jewelry. Her possessions were few, but her room was decorated with the things that were familiar. She especially enjoyed the family pictures on the wall.

Two years had passed and I had no desire to rummage through Mom’s boxes until my sister-in-law approached me one day and offered to help. I declined the offer and several other offers because I wasn’t ready to deal with the emotions that were attached to Mom’s possessions.

Then, one day she came to me and suggested that she would make it easy for me by emptying a couple of boxes, laying it out for me to view and then ‘my’ decision making would become easier. In a weak moment, I agreed even though my heart wasn’t ready.

I’ll never forget that day. The moment I saw a large portion of the possessions spread out on the floor of the empty room, I broke down in tears. But, I kept telling myself I can do this for one hour. My sister-in-law had invited her mother to help, too. As I knelt on the floor, I was overwhelmed. They started suggesting, “if you don’t want the antique apple grater, I’ll take it, and if you don’t want the pearl, mirrored compact case, I’ll take it and ‘we’ can always have a garage sale.”

I wish I had the opportunity to re-live that experience because I regret having let go of some of Mom’s possessions.

WAIT until you’re truly ready to dispose of your loved one’s treasures.

Well meaning people or not, will try to help you in dealing with property and possessions. Surely, they reason, it will be less painful if they help.

I encourage you not to make any of these decisions until you have had the opportunity to process any grief you may be feeling.

Personal property has sentimental value. Once gone, items cannot be recovered no matter how much you miss them. Don’t feel compelled to clean things out because your relatives or your friends want you to. Don’t allow yourself to be pushed into doing something you are not ready to do.

Only you can determine what is important to you and what is not. Don’t dispose of possessions too quickly, because it may be a mistake you will regret later.

Barbara Pursley was born in Galveston, Texas and is the author of EMBRACING THE MOMENT. Barabara attended Santa Monica College, studied photography, and worked as a commercial photographer before returning to Texas to care for her mother. Barbara also taught journal writing to women in Texas rehabilitation facilities. She put her God inspired journal entries and photographs into book form in 2009.

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room