Grieve And Then Let Go…

I’m procrastinating.  There’s something I have to do which I started but haven’t yet found the strength to complete.  It will be the end, a final amen.

But time does heal, you know?  Recently, I went through some boxes of things which belonged to Mum and Dad and which have been in storage for years.  The first time I looked at them, I was unable to part with anything as every single item held such fond memories.  Last time I went,  I found something I’d been looking for and was able to allocate other ‘precious’ things for the charity shops and another pile for the skip.  Progress indeed.  Some boxes remained untouched.

So many times I’ve grieved and not just when I finally lost such wonderful parents.  When Mum and Dad had to go into a home, thankfully for them after 55 years of marriage, at the same time, I grieved for the loss of all that was familiar.  Visiting their home without them there was strange, painful and empty.  Going through their things was an intrusion.  It just wasn’t right when they were still with us.  We had to sell the house to pay the nursing home fees and the feeling of loss was all-consuming.  I had a recurrent dream about going home and finding strangers had taken over and being powerless to get them out.  My daughter, then just 8, was quietly traumatised saying, “That was my special place”.  I encouraged her to talk to Mum  as they were so close but she replied, “I can’t, she’ll be too upset”.  I had a word with Mum and, on our next visit, I saw them sitting cuddled up talking – Spring and Autumn – and my heart ached as I knew they were sharing the pain of losing their ‘special place’.

A month after moving into the home, Mum said “It’ll be a different life, but we’ll make the best of it”, not being one to see anything but the light.  Little did she know that within a week she’d go totally blind with no warning, not even being able to distinguish light from dark.  True kindness showed itself in the form of a doctor at the Eye Clinic who stayed after clinic ended, desperately lasering her eyes to try to preserve some vision; the doctor, Mum and I stayed in the clinic long into the night.  Another bitter blow for her and, again, I grieved for the loss of her sight.  I was so distressed that she wouldn’t be able to see me anymore, or see the children growing up – how selfish was that?  As we sorted through a lifetime’s treasures at home, I found little letters I’d written and cards I’d made as a small child which had been saved and travelled around the world in our packing cases.  I could no longer ask her about our old family photos.   Daughter, being resourceful even then, decided she’d do concerts as Nanny could hear and many times we trundled in with her violin (she was learning at school) and hot bacon sandwiches, Mum’s favourite.

The treasures in storage are specially significant.  My brother had everything in his rented house in Manchester until he moved abroad, when everything went into storage.  One day, I had a call to say that the warehouse had been broken into and all our furniture stolen, boxes unpacked and rifled through and pictures strewn everywhere.  I felt violated and so angry that Mum and Dad’s possessions had been ransacked; we’d let them down.  Two early photos of my grandparents had been stolen.   I say photos but the very first ones were more like paintings as they were finished by hand.  This was particularly sad because I never knew them but, in the picture of my Grandmother, she’s wearing a necklace which I was given on my 21st birthday and which I’ll pass to my daughter on hers.  I planned she’d have the picture as well.

Overwhelmed by an explosion of feelings when I heard that news, I was thankful Mum and Dad wouldn’t know.  That’s why every single thing left and which I reclaimed is so precious.  But it hurts to see what’s left of 55 years together stored in boxes, each piece holding such special memories.  And because of the desecration which took place in that Manchester warehouse, I feel very protective towards what’s left.

Yes, I know we’re speaking of inanimate objects, but each little piece speaks to me, either of happy times or the home that was always so welcoming.   And yet, little by little, I’m healing and starting to let go.  It was a real pleasure to send some kitchen treasures to Liverpool with daughter when she started Uni last September; she’s living in self-catered halls and somehow it feels like Mum’s watching over her.  Watch this space, I’m getting there . . .

  • Hi Janet

    Thanks for sharing. As you know, I’m possessions-light. And about to do what your brother did and go off round the world. I am trying not to put anything into storage at all. I’ve done that before and it’s a mugs game so am reducing my possessions to what I can carry with me on my travels. I’m always amazed at what little I can live on for a month and if I can do it for a month, I can do it for a lifetimme -right?

    What’s left which cannot come with me and cannot go into storage? Heirlooms. They are few – a nursing chair from my Granny, my Mother’s Maltese ashtray (!), a few kitchen treasures and those old photos, mine are all framed, you’ve seen them many times. It’s not more than an armful but I hope my brother will find space in his new attic for the lot, fingers crossed.

    When my brother was abroad, he had a lot of his UK stuff in storage and there was a fire. When he got the letter, at first he thought it said he’d lost everything except my father’s sit up and beg bicycle. Turned out in the end, that was the only thing which was lost. He’s over it now, but at the time he felt as you. Both more sentimental than me!

    • Hi Judith. I know possessions aren’t cluttering up your life, especially in view of travel plans. Yes, I think your brother and I are both the sentimental kind. Like you, my brother’s a Taurean and doesn’t have the same attachments as me. Perhaps it’s all in the Stars, after all!

  • Very touching and lyrical, Janet. I have lost both parents and a brother now (just me and my big sis left),and I only keep the odd thing that means something to me. Less is more somehow, at least for me that is. Thank you. Sally

    • Hi Sally. I’m slowly moving towards just keeping the memories and not the items associated with them. One thing’s for sure, there’s no easy way to lose a loved one. Like you and your big sis, it’s just me and my big brother too.

  • Janet, you have a way of telling a story which is completely captivating, this particular post has moved me to tears, and I am grateful to you for the reminder of all that is important in life and I don’t necessarily mean a lot of possessions.

    Thank you!

    • Bianca, how true that the important things are not ‘things’ at all. Thank you for your kind words, which are appreciated.

  • Janet, your words touched me so much. And have brought back so many of my own thoughts and feelings that I am sitting with them now rather than sharing them here. Thanks for the memories.

    • Marion, our mums are so important, aren’t they? Thank heavens for that well of warm memories that keep them with us forever.

  • I was compelled to read on… You totally captured me. I’m very fortunate to have both of my parents still in good health. I went out last weekend with a close group of girlfriends whom all have lost their mums; I had a new appreciation for mine then, and again now.
    Thank you again for a powerful and absorbing post.

    • Kerry, thanks for your kind comments. When you lose your parents it leaves a void that’s difficult to fill, as your friends will have felt, I’m sure. Enjoy your family time with parents for they really are very special.

  • Wow Janet an incredibly moving post and very emotive. Grief such an unusual entity – mot evetnodus ecoetienced it, some get mote thsn their fair share. The one thing we know for sure is we were birn and we will die. Yet, not always a topic that is broached. You do so here beautifully & incredibly honestly about your exper’ce. It’s very painful. A cliche – but time does heal. I lost my brother when i wad 18, also Mum in early thirties. When another situation comes along about loss it can definitely into the feelings of loss. I have 2 small boxes of old letters/ photos etc. that are waiting to be sorted though. Your daughter sounds amazingly innovative to put on concerts for your Mum. Great that she is using the kitchen stuff. Small steps…..
    Amanda. X

    • Amanda, thanks for sharing your experiences; it’s sounds like you’ve had more than you fair share of loss at a young age. When a younger person dies, it upsets the natural order of things in a way that is confusing. One day you’ll look through your box of treasures and enjoy that trip down memory lane. Children have a way of putting things into perspective, don’t they? When my Father died (14 months before Mum), my son who was just 6 said “Don’t be sad Mummy, Gramps hasn’t died, he’s been born into heaven”. Out of the mouths of babes . . .

  • Jan

    Janet your post touched me as well as brought back memories of family loss. Those treasures that hold wonderful memories can really help in the long road back from grief. So many people think they should be healed far too soon and don’t realise that it takes as long as it takes.

    I love that your daughter is getting to use some of those stored treasures – that made me smile – Jan x

    • Thanks for your kind words, Jan. Grief is such a strange emotion felt differently by everyone and as sure as night follows day, we’ll all experience it sometime. And thanks also for acknowledging the value of my ‘treasures’ which I know to many might just be ‘stuff’.