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Loss, Grief and Organization

Originally written and posted in May 2010

I'm changing this month's topic at the last minute. The topic for May was originally about clearing away those things we are tolerating, but that will have to wait until the June issue. Instead, I want to talk about loss and grief and how it affects our ability (or inability) to organize and move forward, or simply just keep up with our everyday living. When a good friend and client lost her husband, she asked me for a list of things that needed to be done. So I set out to develop a list. What papers and information needed to be collected? What calls and decisions needed to be made? What decisions should not be made within the first 6 or 12 months of a death? There is a lot of good information out there, and I found a great list:

I was also reminded of how loss and grief continues to affect us years later, even after the initial grief has eased. My mother died two years ago this April, and although I hadn't consciously remembered, the anniversary certainly explains my emotional ups and downs of the last several weeks. I also see how it may be affecting the organizing abilities of my brother. So I wanted to share with you some ideas on loss, grief and organizing. I've worked with many clients who have had difficulty letting go of items that were once their mother's, father's grandparents' or child's. The attachment to the item or items is actually an attachment to a memory, but they fear that by letting go of the object they will somehow be throwing away the memories and love for the person they have lost; that now they are gone, the only way they can show respect for their loved one is by caring for the things they cared about. This is not the case. You can keep the memories and respect alive without having to hold on to something you don't use and maybe don't even enjoy. You could:

  • take pictures of the items and create an album of memories and stories

  • choose one special piece to enjoy and treasure; let the others go

  • create a special box to hold and contain those memories

  • ask a clutter buddy to help you by bringing a recorder (tape, digital, video, etc) and share your memories and stories as you go through each item

But often, the challenge to organizing isn't the attachment to the objects but the emotional, mental and physical toll that loss and grief have on us. We are torn away from our normal lives to deal with the loss. This can stop us in our tracks if we are in the process of getting organized or it can be the initial cause of our disorganization. And the only advice I have for that is take it easy on yourself. Give yourself time to grieve, time to sit and do nothing constructive, and time to heal. Loss, grief and disorganization don't arise only with a death. Any change, positive or negative, can affect our ability to organize. A birth, adoption, graduation, job promotion, job loss, a new job, marriage, divorce, breaking up, moving, losing a pet, getting a new pet — each can have an overwhelming effect on our lives and our organizing capabilities. Give yourself time to adjust and make sure you get the support and help you need.

moon above the trees. Quote - let the bucket of memory down into the well, bring it up. cool, cool minutes. no one stirring, no plans, just be there by william stafford

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