Finding Comfort in Words, Not Possessions

I have been in spring-cleaning mode all the way through summer.

Photo courtesy of http://stat.ks.kidsklik.com

Photo courtesy of http://stat.ks.kidsklik.com

After my mom died four years ago, our family kept our house like a museum. I don’t mean that things were neatly organized and everything was nicely displayed. I mean that all my mom’s items were left exactly where they were. Grocery lists still hung on the refrigerator. We gave away only a couple of her clothes, but anything that I remembered her wearing or still had a faint scent from her perfume was stuffed in my drawers. To make more room, I even used some of those plastic bags that you stuff and vacuum out the air.

Having two wardrobes in just a couple drawers and a tiny closet was a recipe for clothes spilling out of drawers and constant piles of garments on my bed. Getting ready in the mornings was stressful and seeing the mess when getting ready for bed was exhausting. I had put up with the mess because they were my mom’s clothes and each item was a piece of her.

After reading a blog that talks about living life minimally, it was time to take inventory of what I owned and to give things away. There were two piles: “Goodwill” and “things I just can’t get rid of.” With every piece of cloth I told myself that this would make someone else really happy. Once things were sorted, I went back to the pile of “things I couldn’t get rid of.”

After staring at the pile of clothes, I had come to see that this was just a pile of clothes. These items were not my mom.

 

It was the memory of her wearing them that I was afraid of losing. Possessing these items did not bring me comfort or happiness, it brought stress and disorganization. For items that I had a hard time getting rid or that did not serve a practical purpose, I took a picture of it then gave it away.

16d020faa7e54e8dc7c67dc6aee6ea74My next task was clearing off the family computer. It had been a couple years since we turned on the big, beige monitor that sat in the corner collecting dust. After starting the computer up, on the desktop was a file titled “Mom.” There were over a dozen word document files inside. Some of the files were our old Christmas lists and a log of some of the uncomfortableness my mom wrote about while she was going through radiation. But then I found one letter that I will cherish forever. In this letter I read my mom talking about death and the acceptance of her condition. After reading it I sat at the computer crying. No amount of clothes or materialistic items can bring me the same amount of comfort than reading words that had been typed from my mom about the subject of death.

When someone we love very much dies, we want to keep everything they own. And as time goes on, we slowly give their items away. I think it’s healthy when we allow ourselves and others to clear things away at our own pace. For me, stumbling upon that letter means so much more now than if I had gone through the files a couple years ago.

We will never forget our loved ones. But how much of these items are holding us back from making room for new memories with family and friends who are still alive today?

What words will you leave behind for your loved ones?

 

Lauren

About Lauren

I'm a Southern California dreamer. Practicing yoga, exploring the outdoors, and having a good chat over coffee are some of the ways I like to recharge. Since starting at O'Connor Mortuary in February as a funeral service assistant, I have a new perspective of what time means and value the people in my life. I think it's amazing how the human spirit can be recharged from just a simple act of kindness. By working on services and helping families through one of their most difficult times, I truly have found my passion and am now training to become a funeral director.
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  • Lori

    Lauren,
    So, we have found that among all of your many talents, you are also a fantastic writer. Thank you for sharing this journey of losing your mother and the stages of grief you have been going through. Your ability to recognize these steps speaks to how wise you are at such a young age. I look forward to seeing your star continue to shine bright at O’Connor. I also look forward to learning more about you. I already know that instead of allowing your grief to overcome you and make you bitter, you have turned that into helping others go through the process of losing their loved ones. I know each family who encounters your heart on their services is touched in a special way by you being there.
    I’m so proud of you! 🙂
    <3<3<3
    Lori

    • Hiro

      Aww thanks Lori, what you said really means a lot!

  • Lauren,
    I remember when my great grandma died, my aunts, grandma, my cousin and I sorted through all her jewelry and her sweet little possessions. It’s a sweet memory of mine because of the joy I got to see and experience as my grandma and aunts told stories about the jewelry and my Gigi’s eccentricities. But she was 98.

    I cannot fathom what you have experienced and I’m blown away by this blog that tells a big part of the untold story of grief. I’ve wondered for a while now, “what do you do with all that stuff?” and to read your honest & hard grief-story is an incredible window that brings me and everyone reading understanding, compassion, and awe.

    Thank you so much for allowing us into your world, for opening yourself up to writing this, and for helping everywhere read something true – that’s the most valuable thing you can give.

    Beautiful job,
    Molly

    • Hiro

      How special to have part of your grandma’s memories; she found something special in the pieces of jewelry and now you and your family are able to share that.

      Thanks so much for creating a healing and inspirational space for us to share Molly!

  • Carrie Bayer

    Lauren, this is a very heartfelt piece- thank you so much for sharing your deep feelings about losing your mom. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to go thru this incredible loss but you have put this part of it into amazing words. Thank you for helping us to learn the difference between holding on to things vs memories, there is a huge difference between the two. Memories will always be with us & only take up space in our hearts, of which we have plenty of room to accommodate as many as we have to keep. Thank you so much for your inspiration! Love, Carrie

    • Hiro

      Memories only take up space in our hearts, well said! Thank you for your kind words!

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Lauren, I had to dry my eyes before I could write to you. This is so beautiful – thank you for sharing such raw and personal emotion. We are truly blessed to have you as a part of the O’Connor team. What a treasure you have found from your Mom. I know this blog will help others on their grief journeys.

    • Lauren

      Thank you Becky! I am so grateful to be here and feel safe sharing these stories with the support of everyone!

  • Kevin Schoedinger

    Beautiful article. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Lauren

      Thank you Kevin!

  • Elsa

    Laren,
    Thank You for sharing such a beautiful story. I can’t begin to imagine what you and your family have gone through. I thank you for allowing us to enter into such a private and difficult experience.

    • Lauren

      Thanks Elsa for those kind words.

  • Shayna Mallik

    Lauren,
    Wow, what a beautiful story. I am so very sorry for your loss and what you and your family went thru. I thank you for sharing this touching story, and showing us how you grieved. You are a beautiful writer, and I enjoy working with you each day!
    Love ya
    Shayna 🙂

    • Lauren

      Aww Shayna, thanks! I love working with you too 🙂

  • Neil O’Connor

    Hi Lauren –
    My heart is heavy reading your blog, I find beauty in the deeper meaning of your relationship with your Mother. I would have a difficult time letting go of anything, even though I prefer to be a minimalist too. I am deeply grateful that we have become teammates in this life. Your life experience has been touching so many of the families we serve, you are here for a reason! The words I would like my family to remember, faith, hope and love. Love is he greatest gift we can share with each other. Once you have been loved by someone their memory will never fade. Namaste

    • Lauren

      Reading your comment put a smile on my face! Our love and spending time with each other are truly the greatest gifts we can give and receive. Thank you for sharing! Namaste.

  • Shasta Thompson

    Lauren, What a great blog! You are such an inspiration! Thank you for sharing this, I can relate to it a lot. My grandma died in 2005,she lived with us and was really a mother figure to everyone in my house, and my family just this year cleared out her clothes. I don’t know what made them do it, if it were up to me I probably wouldn’t have because they did smell like her! haha but you are right they are only possessions and not the person, they could be better used by someone who needs them.

    • Lauren

      Thanks Shasta! What a great gift that your grandma lived with you and your family and how you were constantly surrounded by her love and support. And what a powerful step your family took to let go of her clothes. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sharon Watkins

    Hi Lauren
    Thank you for being willing to open up and share something so personal with us. I agree with what you said and felt. As you know and are experiencing – grief is a journey and is filled with many lessons along that journey (if we are willing to learn them). Thank you for sharing with us one of the lessons learned along your grief journey. It is so hard to lose your Mother. It is an ache that never seems to go away. So my heart is sad for you and your family. It seems like a family is never the same when the Mother (in particular) dies. She truly is the “heart of the home”.

    • Lauren

      Thank you Sharon! Yes, there are lots of lessons to be learned and some more difficult to learn than others. I really appreciate your kind words!

  • Joe Lavoie

    Lauren
    What a touching story , words are so powerful and the ones we leave behind very meaningful. Thank you for sharing .

    Joe

    • Lauren

      Thanks Joe! All the stories you tell and the advice you give are words I will always keep with me 🙂

  • Christopher Iverson

    Lauren,
    I’ve always loved the quote from Winnie the Pooh. Good-byes, especially after death, are difficult and challenging to are hearts. I understand your uncomfortableness with closure and I admire your willingness to move forward even if it is one article and possession at a time.

    • Lauren

      Hey Chris! Thanks for your support through my process of house cleaning. I appreciate your honesty and how you’ve kept me accountable for staying on track!

  • Jenn

    Lauren,

    I think this article will help a lot of people, it is true that holding onto to “things” will never replace the memories those “things” really bring us back to. Thank you for sharing this personal journey you made, I know it will help me let go of some things I have held onto whether its from loved one’s that have died or old relationships, experiences ect.

    • Lauren

      Thanks Jenn! You’re so right how we can still hold onto possessions from any kind of relationship we’ve had with someone close.

  • Patricia Kolstad

    Lauren . . You have touched me with your sweet words of love and emotion. My heart is broken . . . but in a good way. You have revealed a part of yourself that can bring so much to others. I am amazed by the depth of your story, and how it has brought you to this place we call home (O’Connor’s). You are a chosen one – and we are the very fortunate recipients of your grace and your compassion. I am honored to know you, and I want you to know that I have heard from many families that you have assisted, of how caring and kind you were to them. Your experiences, though not in length of time, have been life changing. I can see that clearly in you.

    Thank you for sharing from your heart. Thank you for using your memories to guide you in walking this journey of healing . . . your own and that of others.

    Blessing to you always,

    Pat

    • Lauren

      Aww Pat, wow, thank you so much! You have such a caring heart! I’m so grateful that I get to work with you and can call O’Connors my second home.
      Serving families and helping them is my way of giving back to those who have helped me through this journey. Thank you for all that you do here!

  • Greg Forster

    Lauren,

    Your thoughts and words made it very easy to visualize what your experience was like. I compliment you for your strength to wait, and then when the time was right for you, to then take on the task of memories and giveaways. Waiting is important, too soon, and later one may second judge items that were rashly given away and feel belated sadness for what was lost. Waiting too long, may unnecessarily reopen emotions that were already dealt with and let go at their proper time. Keeping a few keepsakes is good for they are yours. Giving away others means that you can allow yourself, for someone else’s sake, to feel and be happy for all the good that may come of it.

    But nobody can teach us this sense of timing…each must discover it on their own. A mental door opens, we take a deep breath and say “yes, I am ready for this task”. We are secure enough to accept the energy and emotions that will come with it, for we know that they will come. The past can be easy and it can be hard but it is what it is and it will not be boxed up nor controlled. You do not always remember what you will find. You are not always prepared for what you will sense or feel, whether it be easy or hard.

    It was a monumental task when my parents passed, as there was much that was old. Much that had stayed the same since I was a kid growing up in our house in Encino. (Think time warp). Much to too easily pull and almost lock one up back in the past if not too careful. Going through the history of one’s life, especially if you do it alone, can be a difficult thing. We must remember things…we must accept things…for now they can never be changed.
    Have I dealt with this completely? No. A number of things are squirreled away in my house in closets and boxes…waiting for the time of retirement and the fun of putting them on E-Bay to see who might find them to be a valued treasure.

    I hope that you have saved a few materialistic treasures for yourself, but not too many. For it sounds like your heart is already full of the treasure of your mom.

    Greg Forster

    • Lauren

      Thanks Greg, well said! When you do decide to go through the boxes, let me know, I would love to hear about it!

  • Joanna Ramirez

    Lauren,

    Thank you for sharing your story with us all. Very beautiful!

    • Lauren

      Thanks Joanna!

  • tom

    Lauren:

    Your story is revealing about what the meaning of life means to us on an existential plane.

    Tom

  • Anne

    Lauren
    I have 4 months to your 4 years, but I get it on the reticence to change and remove things. I finally was able to start with t-shirts, sox etc. One of my grandsons was able to use some, then these fires occurred for Carrie’s friends and I was able to go through quite a bit more for them, even nice jacket. Lou would have been glad I did. Also, I gave his cell phone to my grandson and his laptop to our daughter. These are small starts…very small, but it feels good. More would not feel good right now. It is a slow process. Thanks for inspiring me that it will get better.

  • Jeff Turner

    Lauren,
    I so appreciate this window into your journey. It is so interesting how we can relate those things left behind so strongly to the person we miss. I love the fact that you have given yourself the gift of time. Time to know when it is right to let things go and know that you mother’s memory is just as strong in you without all of the items that bear her imprint and last touches. You mother must be so very proud of you.

    We are very glad you are a part of the O’Connor family and I am expectant of what you will bring to the families that we serve in the days following their losses. Blessings upon you and comfort for the hard days.

    Jeff

  • Lauren

    Thanks Diana and thanks for all the talks and hugs 🙂

  • tommy mc mahon

    you are so unique. I was so lucky to be a part of your training here at O’CONNOR mortuary. I am proud to be your friend and lucky to have met your dad. I saw how caring you were and how close your relationship is to him. I know you will be one of the best directors in the business.