When you lose a loved one, it can be hard to do much of anything, but life must go on.
From the heirloom furniture to old love notes, choices are thrust into your lap whether you are ready or not. Decisions are immense or can be as ordinary as what to do about the food in your loved one’s cabinets. For some, settling an estate and sorting through the items left behind brings closure. For others, it can make a difficult time even worse. Here are four suggested approaches to honour your loved one (and yourself) during this difficult time.
1. Take a moment
After the initial loss, grief is forefront to other emotions and life feels chaotic. Advice comes from every direction. Many will tell you to hurry through the sorting and delegating of items. I advise clients to take a moment, and a deep breath before making any hasty decisions. This will prevent future family arguments and possible regrets. If finances and circumstances allow, give yourself a good 30 days before jumping into any major decision-making in the dissolution of your loved one’s legacy. Also, you need to use this time to move through your grief and find healing. If you push it away or ignore it, grief will manifest in disruptive and painful ways. This is your time to process it in its freshest state.
2. Don’t do it alone
If your family works well together, use this time to revisit old memories. Choose what physical talismans of those memories you wish to hold onto. If you find yourself explaining and justifying your choices to your friends or family, they are not the right ones to assist you during this time. Involve people around you who are empathetic and allow you to make choices without judgement.
3. Honour their memory
Of the items you will keep or distribute to friends and family, there is likely to be a surplus of belongings that can be useful to someone not in the immediate family. What should become of these items? Find local non-profits and thrift organizations that can thrive from your donations. Make choices that feel good and stay true to the wishes of your loved one. Think about organizations that were important to them, and their beliefs. If they did not have a connection with any organization, what charities are important to you? Through selecting organizations that resonate with you or your loved one, the entire process can be a healing one that benefits many.
4. Keep track of your decisions
Six months to a year after you dissolve your loved one’s material legacy, different individuals might inquire about particular objects. How about dad’s golf clubs? Mom’s crystal glasses? The family photos? This is where your helpful, empathetic friend comes into play again. Have them help you keep track of your decisions. Knowing what went where will be incredibly efficient in the long run. List each item and assign it a number, then add the location the item came from and who/where the item is going. This will offer peace of mind, and avoid possible entanglements or misunderstandings.
Laura Olivares is founder of Nothing Forgotten Inc., which guides and manages all aspects of the downsizing or dissolution of a loved one’s material legacy.