Empty Heart; Empty Closets – Their Belongings

WRITTEN BY: Michelle Page-Alswager

The smell of dirty socks. Once something you complained about, asking your son to pick them up, get them to the laundry chute and maybe, just maybe learn to wash them.

The used test strips. Littered throughout every room of the house, on the kitchen floor, found in suitcases and garages. Everywhere a sign of your child’s diabetes.

And then the day comes that all of us know too well. The day you hold a dirty sock like it’s the most cherished item in the house. You pick up used test strips and cry remembering how much you hated Type 1 diabetes, but how you would do anything – anything – to have it back in your life.

My son, Jesse, who died at the age of 13 was an avid snowboarder, skateboarder and owned two guitars and a drum set. His love for music was everywhere. When Jesse died many things were a blur and remain so. Yet other things so vivid – like his snowboarding permission slip for his middle school ski/snowboard club just sitting on the kitchen table, signed and ready for the day. On that fateful Wednesday, it sat waiting to be taken to school, only to be a horrific reminder the next day that there would be no more release forms to sign.

My friends quickly walked through the house that Thursday morning trying to remove visible and obvious signs that he was no longer living in the house. The snowboard trip form disappeared from view, the testing supplies put in a cabinet.

But the main thing they did right: They didn’t throw a single thing away.

In the eight years since my loss I’ve witnessed how many others deal with the grief and the distribution or saving of their loved ones items. For me it was all very gradual. At first I would just go into his room, just to be in his space – to maybe smell him. As months turned to a year, the smells no longer lingered and items had been given away in many different ways. I can remember distributing a few of those items so I thought I would share it with you.

His guitars and drums were an integral part of who he was/is. I could not part with them. Simply one guitar came with me, the other to his dad where they remain on display in our houses along with favorite DC brand hats, his JDRF Rufus Bear, his shoes, guitar picks and other things that just meant something to us. Slowly items were given out  – his snowboard and skateboard to his best friend Paul. His clothes handed down to his little brother. And while sometimes it felt good to hand these items to people who loved him, it was also excruciating each time.

But the bedroom. What to do with the bedroom? I have many friends who said they couldn’t enter the bedroom and it remains mostly untouched. Others felt the immediate need to pack up the room as to not have yet another reminder of their pain. For me it remained untouched for a year and then a decision was made that it was a big room with lots of privacy and would be good for his little brother to move in – a remodel was scheduled. For me it felt good that something positive would happen to his space.

For Laurie she felt good giving some of her son’s books to friends who would want them: “I still have books, some art supplies, a guitar and case, a stuffed animal or two. It’s been 10 years so it is easier to part with things. They just become things. Not easy, just easier.”

For Jane her son’s books were significant as well. “It took a LONG time to let go of his books. He LOVED reading. My daughter had some of them, my elder son had the Chronicles of Narnia, and I donated the rest. I felt as though I was betraying him. Oh, that was SO hard, but I would never have read the books, and what was the point of keeping them just in case he came back. I think I had to accept in my mind that he wouldn’t need them in the future. I did keep his bookmarks though. They are still very precious to me.”

For other parents it is a different scenario when the loved one is off at college. For one parent it meant driving to his apartment and cleaning it out quickly with no time for grieving the “space” he lived in.

For Tami it was a process. “I got rid of most of it quickly. But I had a large closet I just threw the ‘I-don’t-know stuff in.’ I would find random things around the house. Hair ties, glucose sticks and every time I would, it would just throw me down for the day. After four years I went through the closet and cried all week and kept the things that meant something to me gave the rest to close friends and cousins that wanted a memory of her. But for me it was the best thing I could do.”

For me, a storage area in my house still has random “Jesse” items. The funeral memory cards, his schoolwork and other miscellaneous items I just can’t seem to let go of. And that is okay for me. Maybe I never will. But if you are the one helping others those first hours, days, months – follow their lead and let them choose when anything is given away as it is theirs to give.


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