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How De-cluttering Can Help you Heal from Grief


“When one person is missing the whole world seems empty.” ― Pat Schweibert, Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss

When my dad passed away it was devastating. He had been very sick for many years and we knew he didn’t have much time left. Mom did all she could to help him, take care of him, ease his worries and his fears. We all talked with him as often as possible but no matter what you know or how you prepare it is never a good time to die. The real raw emotions that came crashing down upon me were horrendous. Did I say enough, did I share enough, was he happier to die in Florida than in our home town miles and miles away in another state? If he could tell me one more thing what would he want me to know? Then there is the tragedy of never knowing his grandchildren as they got older. That, for me, was the worst part. He loved his grandchildren so much.

When I returned from the funeral, the motions of helping mom transition into her new single life, the flight back and forth, I had an overwhelming desire to clean. She didn’t want to hesitate to go through dad’s clothes, so we did that the first few days after the funeral. I found it odd, but it helped her I think so who am I to question her needs at that time. It wasn’t that my house was messy or that I was looking for anything.

For me, it wasn’t that my house was messy or that I was looking for something in particular. It wasn’t that I wasn’t busy with my own responsibilities as a mom, it was just that I didn’t know what to do with all the anger and frustration and disappointment and sadness and grief. Just as grief has stages we all pass through, one of the ways that helped me start to heal was being able to physically put my grief somewhere and physically work through it. So, I cleaned, I de-cluttered, I purged, I swept, I vacuumed, I scrubbed, I washed, I re-arranged, and I exhausted myself until I couldn’t do anything more. It took me weeks, maybe months but I was always so close to the edge of pain and grief that it probably felt like more time passed by than what passed by.

The surprise, other than the fact that it was exactly what helped me start to deal more rationally with the grief, was that I found my dad in a lot of things that I uncovered as I started to unintentionally go through my stuff and unclutter my cluttered emotional mind. Birthday cards, Valentine’s Day cards (he was always my “secret admirer”), knick-knacks he gave me throughout my life that were on display through the house, things I couldn’t put away somewhere, pictures, songs that would suddenly play on the radio and artists’ he enjoyed, memories that overwhelmed me and yet allowed me to talk to him as I went through all of these markers of his influence on my life. All of this afforded me an opportunity to share with my children what made my dad so special to me. They, to this day, live on those stories as if they experienced them rather than me. I’m so proud of the legacy dad left behind.

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” ― Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

So, how do you manage grief? Do you have go-to steps you take or do you just take it one second at a time? Do you listen to your body and heart or do you always try to breeze through and focus on the present? Are you in the throes of grief right now and don’t know what to do?

Here are a few ideas that might help you or at least get you on the path to recovery and forward motion:

Write. If possible, write down how you are feeling. Write anywhere, anytime on any surface. Don’t limit yourself in any way, just write. Make a grief vision board if necessary. If words are failing you but you want to express how you are feeling draw, sing, paint, create something from deep within you, but put those feelings somewhere.

Ask for help. A partner, a friend, a sibling, a co-worker, a professional, a child, a mentor, anyone you trust and can be yourself with, ask for help. Help can be in the form of just having someone to talk to, someone who can cook or clean for a while, someone who can distract you, someone who can take the kids for a few hours a day or on weekends or just to the bus and back during school days. Please do not be afraid to ask for help of any kind.

Baby steps to recovery. Give yourself a lot of latitude when it comes to moving through grief. There are no set timelines, no magic potions that will fix how you feel and/or for how long you feel it.

Use your grieving/negative energy for recovery and positivity. For me, cooking, baking, re-arranging furniture for new look, new feel, new perspective, helped me turn corners. Perhaps gardening or planting something in a garden for remembrance or just for the sake of growing something from a seed might be helpful.

Don’t discount pleasant smells. If you don’t have the energy to cook or bake, create a potpourri by putting orange peel, cinnamon sticks and nutmeg into a pot of water and let the soothing scents of home relax you and comfort you.

De-clutter. Maybe for you that is not a great word. Perhaps, organize or purge or reclaim or re-allocate things around the house that no longer serve a purpose like clothing items, accessories, albums, photographs, cards, letters, files, etc. Take it one day at a time, one item at a time. No rush. Just do as much as you can when you can.

'Can you take away this grief?' 'I'm sorry,' she replied. 'Everyone asks me. And I would not do so even if I knew how. It belongs to you. Only time and tears take away grief; that is what they are for.” ― Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

Call to Action

What have been solid grief reducing steps in your life?

What is the one thing that helped you start to physically work through your grief?

From where you started to where you are now, how was the journey worth it?

Photo Credits: Joshua Rawson-Harris


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