Grief School: Lesson #2 – It’s a Thing

It was just a fourteen-year-old Jeep. Yet, when it sold last week, you would have thought I was selling a kidney for the emotion that was stirred up.

Miles of wandering like a nomad when Hurricane Katrina left us homeless.

Miles of traveling back home to take care of a beloved Aunt who became ill unexpectedly.

Miles of horseback riding lessons.

Miles of soccer games.

Miles of tennis lessons.

Miles of hauling tack trunks and saddles.

Miles of road trips.

Miles of who knows what when that old Jeep was turned over to my older daughter at age 16.

Over 153,000 miles of my life was wrapped up in that Old Jeep. What’s the big deal? I’ve sold and traded vehicles without so much as the bat of a lash. Why was this time so different?

Here’s something you need to know about profound loss. At the moment of loss – odd, unexpected attachments form instantly. Sometimes, you don’t even know that they’ve formed until something threatens that invisible bond – like selling an Old Jeep.

Anything and everything that represents a link to a lost loved one can take on deep (and seemingly illogical) significance. It’s all part of the paradox of loss.

Ziploc bags, vacuum sealers and freezers become strange bedfellows to the bereaved as we desperately cling to a scent that lingers on a favorite tee. A snack left unfinished. Half-empty (or half-full depending on your view) bottles of shampoo, perfume, and wine. 

What do old toothbrushes, deodorant sticks, dirty clothes, old shoes, a garage door opener and a stretched-out hairband have in common? A loved one who is now gone was the last person to touch them.

The towels left on the bathroom floor that might have been “the last straw” one day become the first in a string of precious memories the next. A source of irritation one day; a desperate connection to loved one the next.

So, what can we learn from these strange, unpredictable, and incredibly strong attachments? 

Ask – Don’t Assume

In our eagerness to help in the wake of loss – it is easy to make an innocent mistake. Don’t assume that the shoes in the entryway need to be “picked up” in anticipation of a houseful of visitors. Don’t assume that the open bag of Gardetto’s needs to go in the trash. Don’t assume that making a bed or washing towels three weeks after the funeral will be greeted with gratitude.

But do ask first. Some people prefer to have things picked up quickly. Others will want things to remain unchanged indefinitely. You won’t know until you ask. And chances are – they won’t either.

I get it. We don’t want to “bother” the bereaved. Who needs to make yet another decision when already blindsided with decisions that never should be made? We want to make things as right as we can for them. We want to make things “easy.”

Trust me on this one. Sometimes, we don’t even know that something might matter until we are faced with it. Finding out after the fact that something was moved, changed, “fixed,” or thrown out can be traumatic. That glass of water next to the recliner might be part of the last scene that someone shared with a loved one. Those shoes in the entryway might fool a broken heart into thinking that a loved one is coming home just long enough for the heart and mind to come into sync. That pile of laundry will carry the scent of a loved one much longer than you’d ever imagine. A sibling, a parent, or a spouse might find great comfort curling up in the bed that a loved one left unmade.

Some attachments make sense. Others don’t. And, the bereaved will be the first to admit that the intense attachments to seemingly meaningless items don’t make sense. It doesn’t have to make sense. Cancer doesn’t make sense. Trucks with jacked up tires and drivers who ignore the safety of others doesn’t make sense. Suicide doesn’t make sense. Drugs don’t make sense. Our reactions when these circumstances invade our lives doesn’t have to make sense.

One of the greatest gifts you can give the grieving – treading lightly and going slowly.  Give the bereaved time to process along the way so that well-intentioned acts don’t become additional trauma to a battered heart.

One note to my fellow bereaved – it isn’t the end of the world, if your spouse eats the chocolate square that had taken on special meaning to you. The sun will still come up tomorrow, if someone cleans the bathroom counter thinking that they are making life easier for you. It’s gonna be okay if the Old Jeep finds a home in another driveway.

The love that binds us to these odd little affections is stronger than our odd little affections. The memories are not controlled by the chocolate, cheese, shampoo, perfume, dirty laundry, old shoes, or Old Jeeps. Long after these things have lost their power, love will drive the memories. Love binds these memories forever in our hearts.

Dear Father, when we are the one who has suffered, thank You for sending others to comfort us, to pick up our houses, to make our meals, to take our turn with carpool, and so much more. When we find ourselves being the one to pick up houses, make meals, run carpool, and so much more, thank You for guiding us to be the best comfort that we can to those who are suffering. In the midst of these upside down, inside out situations, we need your Spirit to help both the bereaved and the comforter to make sense of the senseless. Remind us always that our attachments are not to the things – but to the person. And death has no power over the love that binds us to our loved ones because of your ultimate love for us through the sacrifice of your son, Jesus Christ. For this we pray – Amen!

P. S. May the Old Jeep’s new owner enjoy many miles of memories.

SDG

2 thoughts on “Grief School: Lesson #2 – It’s a Thing

  • I understand, I’m sure that others, not on our journey, would never understand my inability to discard the remains of a chopped up work jacket that was used to make a memory bear for my Patrick. When the wonderful woman who created the bear for me sent it back the bottom of the box was filled with cut up pieces (she did understand) I put that box in my closet almost 3 years ago and that’s where it sat until I started trying to clear out “stuff” because I was moving across the country. When I opened the box the tears came quickly and my logical brain said “it’s just a box of scraps why are you keeping it” but my grief brain said “you must keep this, it belonged to Patrick, throwing it away would be wrong” what is a bereaved mother to do? I chose a cuff that was intact, it would have been on his wrist, close to his pulse, I already had the patch from the chest area of the jacket on the bear so this was the next best thing. I placed that cuff in the chest with many of his other things and managed to throw the rest away, crying the entire time. Only those on our journey will nod instead of shaking their head. 💙☘️💛⚾️

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