Sorting through a deceased child’s belongings

A while ago, I wrote briefly about taking time to go through your child’s belongings in my blog, “A Few Things I’ve Learned in the 10 Years Since Jason Died.” I’ve also responded on Facebook to bereaved parents who’ve asked about what to do with their child’s things. It dawned on me yesterday that I’ve never actually written a specific post with my recommendations on the subject.

When you were ready, here are my suggestions for going through your child’s belongings.

Take your time

First of all, don’t let anyone rush you or push you to go through or “get rid of” your child’s belongings. This is something that’s a very difficult thing to do and you should be given the grace to do it on your own time frame. Let me say that again – your own time frame. Yours. Only yours. Not a time frame someone else has decided for you. Even within family members, the time to go through a child’s belongings should be based – not on the FIRST person who decides or feels like they are ready – but rather on the LAST person reaches the decision that they are ready. If you are the first person to reach this decision, extend copious amounts of grace to everyone else. When it comes to sorting through your child’s belongings, no one should feel rushed or mowed over.

If you absolutely have to consolidate belongings because you have to move or for some other valid reason, that’s one thing. Even then, you should not let anyone push you on their schedule. If someone intimates or outright tells you that you are making a shrine to your child and makes you feel like that it’s a bad thing to wait until you – and only you – are ready to tackle this task, just chalk it up to their not having been in your shoes. They have no idea what they’re talking about, and we need to hope that they never will.

Be gentle with yourself

Going through your child’s belongings is not a marathon or a mountain to be climbed. It is not a task to be conquered. If you begin and find it too overwhelming, it’s okay to take a break or close the door and wait until another day. There is no rule or set time when this task needs to be started or finished. If you need to stop and take time to grieve, extend yourself the grace and time to do so.

Realize that it’s a hard task

No matter how long you wait to begin sorting through your child’s belongings, acknowledge to yourself that it’s an emotional and difficult task to do. It will always feel like you are erasing part of your child’s life from your own. The older the child, the more things they will have collected, the more you will have to sort through.

If you need to, ask for help

If you have a trusted friend or family member who will follow your lead and be sensitive to what you’re going through, ask that person to help you. Don’t be offended if someone says no. Not everyone can handle such a difficult and emotional task and walk beside you as you do this. Let them know it will not be an easy task and make sure they know it’s okay to be honest with you if it becomes too much for them to handle. When we started to go through Jason’s room, our daughter said, “This is more difficult than I thought it was going to be.” She thought she was ready to help, but couldn’t do it and had to leave. And that was okay.

Make a plan and be prepared

Purchase some Rubbermaid totes or other types of long-term storage containers and some boxes. Make sure you have on hand some type of labeling material that does not easily come off of boxes/containers (permanent markers, stick-on labels) and sealing materials (package sealing or duct tape). You may need some file folders, hanging file folder holders, file folder labels and bankers boxes for organizing papers. Also get some various sizes of Ziplock bags for grouping small or similar items and some recycling and garbage bags.

Organize

To begin, choose a small, less-emotionally charged area to sort. Try not to take everything in all at once, as it may become overwhelming. Focus on one specific area. Success breeds success, and you will feel more able to continue when you have successfully completed one small area.

Divide things up into five sections: 1) absolutely have to keep; 2) not quite sure yet whether to keep or not or what to do with; 3) special things you want to give to certain people; 4) things to donate to a charitable organization; and, 5) things to throw away. As you go, box up the things you know you want to keep and label the contents of each container. The same goes for the “not quite sure” items. For the special mementoes, put items you want to give in individual Ziplock bags/boxes and label who you want to give them to. Box up donations, label where they should go and bag up garbage to go where it need to go.

While the others sections may be obvious, the one area that may be overlooked and yet is very crucial is the “not quite sure” items (# 2 above). It’s okay not to know if you want to keep something or not. You don’t have to decide at that very moment. Let me say that again – you absolutely DO NOT have to decide everything at that very moment. I strongly suggest boxing up the things you are not sure about in long-term storage containers and then setting them aside in storage for review at another time. With distance, things may be clearer. It’s an absolute tragedy to give or throw away something you later wish you hadn’t. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and there usually is no way to ever recover those items. Box up those items you are not sure about, store them in your basement or garage, and go through them again when you feel you are ready – whether it be months or even years down the road.

Before making final storage/disposal of items, be sure you check with family members to see if they have any input, changes, or wish to go through your decision choices. Disposal of your child’s things really feels permanent, like the closing of a door, and it’s worth the effort to consider the feelings of others before taking this step.

Final Comments

All of these suggestions are made from experience – either things I did well or wish I had done differently. My greatest errors were allowing myself to be pushed to go through Jason’s room before I was ready to do so, and to not set aside things I wasn’t sure about to review another day. At the end of the day I was totally traumatized at a time when I didn’t need any more trauma. I gave away or “got rid of” things I wish I never had. If I can encourage anyone to take time and give themselves or another bereaved parent grace with this heart-wrenching task or save someone the agony of giving away something they wish they hadn’t, then this post has accomplished its task.

If you have any additional suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

Struggling

One would think I would be used to some of this grieving stuff by now, but there are times when something raises its head and I have to deal with it all over again. Just when I think I’ve got at least a partial handle on the reality of the way things are now, something comes up and pierces my heart.

This time it’s grandkids.

Two of my boss’s grown children have recently surprised him and his wife with announcements of additional grandchildren arriving in the near future. He is so excited to show this kind of thing to me. He’s so proud of the way his children announced the news to them. Fun, cute announcements. So excited for more grandchildren arriving soon. Can’t wait to play with them, be grandpa.

I’m happy for them, but I’m also really struggling with it right now.

While it’s true we have three grandchildren, it’s also true that it has not been the Norman Rockwell-esque scenario we were looking forward to – not by a long, long shot. From the beginning of their relationship, our (now) daughter-in-law has done everything in her power – I’m not sure whether consciously or subconsciously, although maybe some of each – to cause division and problems between our son and us, and to make sure Joe and I know of how little value and importance she feels we are to their family. She has also done a more-than-adequate job of communicating this sentiment over and over again in many different ways to our son and grandkids. I will refrain from saying any more, although there is much more I could say. It has been a difficult pill to swallow. Since we live all the way across the country, it’s also a very difficult sentiment to counteract.

It breaks my heart. We have done everything we can, absent moving back to Seattle, to show them how much we love them and how much they mean to us. I don’t know how much good it’s done or if it’s even registered. It’s hard to tell. Even if we moved back now, it would be too little, too late. At ages 20, 13 and 9, the patterns have already been set, opportunities missed never to return.

Joe is and has always been a great dad. I could not have asked for a better man to be the father of our kids. When the kids were little, he would come home from work and play with them, read to them, play board games, take them swimming – all after a long day’s work. He’d make up games or change up the rules to games to make them more fun or different. He’d read books backwards, just to make the kids laugh. When the kids’ friends would come over, they would beg Joe to play “swamp monster” with them, to which he would happily oblige. As they got older, he always had time for them. He even helped our daughter and her friend dye their hair. He really was looking forward to doing the same with grandkids. He told me once that he could just imagine grandkids running around our house and it made him so happy.

I had my own vision of grandkid fun – baking, crafts, exploring, drawing, painting. Before we moved from Seattle, I tried to take our grandson places and plan fun activities as much as I was “allowed” to do so. Once we moved, those opportunities were gone.

Our daughter doesn’t want kids at all. She has said that exact same thing since she first took a babysitting class at the age of 12. We have come to the realization that she meant exactly what she said. It’s certainly her choice and we respect her wishes.

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Jason and our grandson Michael – Summer 2001

Jason was my hope – my hope for a daughter-in-law that would be glad to be a part of our family, for grandkids that we could love and spoil, who would be happy to see us and love us in return. The whole Norman Rockwell thing. I was looking forward to being that kind of grandparent, as was Joe – REALLY looking forward to it. Some days the realization of what we have missed because of Jason’s death hits us square in the face, right in the heart. And it hurts.

I’m happy for friends I know whose children have gotten married, had grandchildren, bought houses, etc. I see their photos and announcements on Facebook or wherever, and I’m truly happy for them. But my heart hurts that this part of our future died with Jason. He would have been a great husband, a great father. He was so fun, loving and kind. He loved kids. He loved us. I know he was looking to all of those adventures. We were, too.

And it makes me sad. Just being honest – I’m really struggling with this today.

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

Living with regrets

When they are born, children don’t come with manuals. As parents, we are left to do the best we can with the resources we have. Some of us have better resources than other; some of us have to do the best we can with what we have and the what we learned from our parents.

My family means the world to me, and I tried to do the best job I could to be the best parent I could be. I would do anything for each of them. My heart is so full of love for them that, at times, I feel like I can’t contain it. But, I know that, in some ways, I failed miserably as a parent. And no matter how much I love them, it doesn’t change the fact that I have regrets and wish I had done some things differently.

Some things that I thought were so important when my kids were small have proven over time not to be that important. I wish I could go back and do some things again, knowing what I know now. More patience, more fun. But, we never get that chance. Never. Ever. One shot. That’s it. I can never make the wrongs right. And, when a child dies, the opportunities to do better or to make new memories are gone. When I remember those days when I didn’t do such a good job, the regrets weigh heavy.

I hope my kids remember the good things more than the bad. How I got up every year at 3 a.m. to make cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning. The looking for weeks for the perfect things to put in their Easter baskets, and then getting up at 7 a.m. to put them together so they would be waiting when they got up first thing on Easter morning. The way I tried to keep our refrigerator and pantry stocked with things they and their friends liked so they would always have their favorites to eat. Keeping lots of things in the house for crafts so they and their friends would always have something to do. Glue, glitter, fabric paint, paper, pens, stickers. Baking, picking strawberries. 4th of July celebrations. Making Halloween costumes. Christmas morning traditions. Birthday parties. Ice skating lessons, roller blading. Sewing a birthday gift outfit from scratch for one of Jenna’s friends from a sketch she drew when she was 5. On and on. So much of what I did, I did with them in mind. I hope they know that.

I did try. I hope they remember that and forgive the rest. I am not perfect – far from it. I can’t change the past, no matter how much I wish I could. And, so, I have to live with regret. None of us are perfect. I know that. I guess that’s where extending grace and forgiveness to ourselves and to each other has to be.

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Poignant Days

There are days when I feel your absence so acutely,

Days that remind me of what was,

Days that remind me of what could have been,

Days that remind me of what I wish with all my heart had been.

This is one of these days, and I miss you so much.

I love you, Jason.

 

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

Question about Non-Profits for Helping Bereaved Parents

I have had a project in my mind for a long time – a non-profit for helping and supporting bereaved parents. I don’t want to duplicate what others have done, but I have wanted to do something to help. Whatever I do, I want it to be entirely relevant and workable.

What I have in mind is something that’s very ambitious – or at least could be in the long run – so I’m not sure if I have the wherewithal to do anything that ambitious, and I don’t think I can do it alone. My heart is telling me that now may be the time. I say that out loud with fear and trepidation, as I haven’t said those words to hardly anyone and I’ve never outlined what I have in mind to anyone.

So, my question is this: Do you know of any non-profit organizations that specifically help and provide resources for bereaved parents? If so, what is their focus, size, any other specifics? Could you please also provide a web link, if one is available? If you have started a non-profit, what has been your process/experience? If you don’t want to put anything public on this site, you can email me at onewomansperspective@hotmail.com.

Thank you.

~Becky

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

A Momentous Year

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Birthday letter to Jason July 29, 2001. The pastor read this letter at Jason’s memorial service.

The morning of July 29, 2001, I woke up really early, and I knew the instant I woke up that I wanted to write Jason a special note for his 19th birthday. I just had to let him know how special he was to me and how much I appreciated him for who he was.

We tend to think of milestone birthdays as those  more momentous than others and seem to carry more “weight” or reason to celebrate than others. It’s not that the other years aren’t celebrated, it seems that bit more emphasis tends to be placed on those birthdays than others. What those birthdays represent have a stronger meaning. Turning sixteen tends to represent being able to get a driver’s license. Eighteen represents becoming an adult and going off to college or some other type of independent step. For some, twenty-one represents being able to purchase alcohol. Latin cultures have a huge quinceañera celebrations when a girl turns fifteen. Jewish communities celebrate the milestone of a boy turning thirteen with a bar mitzvah. In my mind, as I wrote in the note, I thought it wasn’t one of the ones we typically think of as momentous.

IMG_2558Little did I know, at the time, how momentous that birthday would be. It was the last one we would ever celebrate here on this earth with him.

That year, we celebrated on Jason’s actual birthday with our family and some of his closest friends, and then we had a large joint birthday party at a local park for Jason and his good friend, Justin. Just looking at those pictures, I can tell he was happy and that he knew he was loved. He loved being with family and friends. He loved to have fun.

On July 29th this year, we would have celebrated Jason’s 34th birthday. I can only imagine what his life would have been like and what he would have accomplished by now. What would he be doing? Who would he have married? Would he have children? We’ll never know the answers to those questions.

I am so glad Jason was born into our family. He was 9 pounds, 10 1/2 ounces of pure joy. Kind, loving, thoughtful, empathetic, intelligent, funny. There aren’t enough words in my vocabulary to describe what a special guy he was and how much I love him. And no matter how many years go by, I will always love and miss my precious boy. Happy birthday, Jason.

 

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

A Better World

I dream of a better world

But how can there be a “better world” when you are not in it?

You made this world better and brighter

And it is so much less so now that you are gone.

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I miss you, my precious boy.

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney