With time and love: how to say goodbye to the things of someone who has died

With time and love: how to say goodbye to the things of someone who has died


Getting rid of the things a person has left in their life is a very complicated matter. Experts offer some guidelines.


November 16, 2020 – 6:00 p.m.

The beloved is gone, but the clothes and his favorite chair are. Getting rid of the belongings of a deceased parent, partner or brother or sister is a very difficult task for family members. Not only from an organizational point of view, but above all from an emotional point of view. “This is because the items are related to the deceased. The usual contact is no longer there after death. But pajamas that still smell like the deceased are still there,” said Christine Kempkes, who offers funeral services and thus delivering farewell speeches at funerals in Germany.

An album of photos taken at the home of deceased parents can keep memories alive, even when the parents’ house is already empty.

With the selection of items, many people with pain realize that the deceased will no longer sit on this chair or wear this sweater. He will not return.

There is no perfect time to review things
“When to start sorting and disposing of the deceased’s belongings is a very individual matter,” said Silke Shimura, who also provides funeral services and gave a speech at funerals in Germany. “There is no ‘right’ time to serve all the bereaved equally,” he added.

Some people prefer to get rid of things as soon as possible so that they don’t have to watch them all the time. Others need months or years to cope with this task. “The important thing is not to be pressured by others with phrases like ‘at least start with the closet,'” said German mourning analyst Tobias F. Mende, who also delivered farewell speeches at the funeral.

According to him, people should follow their own feelings instead of listening to the environment. “You have to believe that the right time will be found,” says Shimura. And he explains that although it seems unimaginable, after a while “I can’t do this” becomes “I’m ready to take the first step”.

Photos of the environment in its original state can help
Sometimes time is short. For example, when the parents’ house needs to be dismantled quickly because the rent can no longer be paid. “In these cases, it’s a good idea to take pictures of the environment before you take them down, and take detailed pictures of the corners or favorite objects of the person who died,” Kempkes said.

With these images you can create a photo album. In this way, family members have the opportunity to “walk” in the middle of the dead person. This can be healing, especially if the farewell time was insufficient.

There’s one more thing family members should keep in mind when under pressure: “You can customize the process,” Shimura said. In other words, whoever wants can listen, for example, while ordering music that reminds him of the dead man, or eat his favorite pastries. These little rituals, which are very personal, provide support.

ask friends for help
It can also help ask a good friend to be present during the process, not only for emotional support, but also to give a neutral opinion on the question “Should I keep this item or throw it away?”

In order not to feel overwhelmed, it is best to walk slowly. “Go first to the easiest rooms and objects and leave the most sensitive ones for last. Do not throw things away or give them away, but conscientiously hold them in your hand and ask yourself, “Do I want to keep this? Or is it better to give it away? ”Mende explains.

If the solution is “I’d better throw it away,” it may be helpful not just to throw things away, but to find meaning in them, such as donating clothes to a theater or social center. “Another good idea is to invite friends of the deceased so they can keep something they like,” says Kempkes.

Keep the memories in boxes
Many people are afraid of losing the memories they have of the person who died. “It’s good for many relatives, especially in the case of children, to have a memory box,” Mende said. The advantage is that when it hurts to see them, they can be placed on the top shelf of the closet.

There are also many creative ways to preserve memories. “Nowadays, chat exchanges can be published in book format,” says Kempkes.

Sadness, fear, anger, gratitude: arranging the deceased’s belongings is often emotional chaos. Isn’t it a betrayal of dead couples handing out their books? Why did he keep so many useless things? “You have to go through different feelings,” says Shimura.

The specialist recommends that you love yourself when ordering and not judge your own feelings. It is best to talk to yourself as you would to a friend. Nor should you demand to be strong in such a situation. There is one more thing that can make it easier for those who are left to put the deceased’s things in order: discuss the deceased’s wishes before death, if possible. “This has the advantage that after the death of a family member, people who have to put things in order feel less powerless,” Mende said. It also helps to eliminate the fear of betrayal of the deceased, because their desires are known.

“It takes a lot of courage to have such a conversation, but it can be a very big gift after death,” Mende suggested.

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