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: absolutely have to keep, not quite sure yet whether to keep or not or what to do with, special things you want to give to certain people, things to donate to a charitable organization, and 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 and bag up garbage to go where they 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. 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

“You’ve Got Mail”

I watched the movie You’ve Got Mail the other day. It came out in 1998 and Jason absolutely loved that movie. As a matter of fact, Jason’s friend Alina (who died in the same car accident as Jason) had bought the DVD for him the Christmas before he died.

It took me years to watch You’ve Got Mail after Jason died. When I finally felt like I could watch it, I cried and cried all the way through it. It came up the other day as I was looking for a movie to watch, and so I decided to watch it again. It still made me cry and cry. Certain memories of Jason are so strongly associated with this movie. It suited his personality – fun, upbeat, caring, romantic, lover of flowers and giving them to those he loved.

Besides Jason’s love for the movie, quite a bit of the music in the movie reminds me of Jason. We played the “The Puppy Song” by Harry Nilsson at the beginning of the slideshow at Jason’s memorial service – a fun, upbeat song that suited Jason so well and his love of his friends. It was the very first song in the memorial slideshow.

“The Puppy Song”
Dreams are nothing more than wishes

And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true, woo woo

If only I could have a puppy
I’d call myself so very lucky
Just to have some company
To share a cup of tea with me

I’d take my puppy everywhere
La, la, la-la I wouldn’t care
And we would stay away from crowds
And signs that said no dogs allowed
Oh we, I know he’d never bite me
Whoa de lo…….
We, I know he’d never bite me

If only I could have a friend
To stick with me until the end
And walk along beside the sea
Share a bit of moon with me

I’d take my friend most everywhere
La, la, la-la I wouldn’t care
We would stay away from crowds
With signs that said no friends allowed
Oh we, we’d be so happy to be
Whoa de lo………….
We, we’d be so happy to be together

But dreams are nothing more than wishes
And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true
Whoa whoa……….

Dreams are nothing more than wishes
And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true
Whoa whoa woo……..

Dreams are nothing more than wishes
And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true

 
 

There are a couple of other Harry Nilsson songs in the movie that bring me to tears when I hear them – Remember and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Other songs in the movie by other artists, too, tug at my heart and make me miss Jason tremendously. Dreams by the Cranberries was on Jason’s favorite playlist at the time he died. Dream by Roy Orbison speaks to the longing of when things were better and memories of when Jason lived.

Remember (Christmas)”

Long ago, far away
Life was clear
Close your eyes

Remember, is a place from long ago
Remember, filled with everything you know
Remember, when you’re sad and feelin’ down
Remember, turn around
Remember, life is just a memory
Remember, close your eyes and you can see
Remember, think of all that life can be
Remember

Dream, love is only in a dream
Remember
Remember, life is never as it seems
Dream

Dream, love is only in a dream
Remember
Remember, life is never as it seems
Dream

Long ago, far away
Life was clear
Close your eyes

https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/harrynilsson/rememberchristmas.html

Long ago, far away…life was clear. Remember. Missing my boy with my whole heart. Oh, my precious boy, how I miss you.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

Another Thanksgiving in the books

Holidays are filled with landmines and pitfalls following the death of a child. I remember the “firsts” of the year Jason died – first Easter, first 4th of July, first birthday, first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first New Years. Holidays just are never the same when a child dies. Sometimes they are incredibly difficult.

For some reason, this Thanksgiving was particularly difficult for me. Perhaps it’s the whole pandemic isolation thing, being so far away from family. Perhaps it’s the uncertainty of where we are going to live and feeling like we are still at loose ends. Perhaps it’s that so many things feel temporary. We haven’t had a home of our own in so long that it’s beginning to feel like it will never happen. Perhaps it’s a lot of things combined.

I woke up on Thanksgiving morning and just couldn’t seem to find a smile in me. I felt like there was a huge lump in the pit of my stomach that made it hard for me to breathe, like I could cry at the drop of a hat. I had a hard time holding it together. I long for the day when we could all be together in a home of our own. That day is gone and will never be again. It’s just so hard sometimes.

Christmas is right around the corner and the Christmas spirit seems so far to be very elusive this year, too. My mind can’t seem to wrap itself around the fact that we have to spend another Christmas, another year without Jason. I’m doing the best I can, but I feel like I’m failing miserably. A new year is rapidly approaching.

Another year without my boy. Sometimes I just don’t know how to do this.

I love you, Jason, and I miss you with my whole heart.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Memorial Day 2020

As we drove home today following a weekend visit with our daughter and son-in-law, we passed a church with a Memorial Day marquee that said:

Instead of mourning their death, thank God they lived.

I have to admit that I struggle with not letting sayings like this really irritate me. To me – and I’m speaking strictly in my own humble opinion – people who spout sayings like this (or in this case put on a church marquee) have no idea what it’s like to deeply mourn the loss of a dearly loved person, especially the death of a child. A saying like this could easily be interpreted as condemnation for someone who is mourning. At best, those saying things like this are horribly misinformed. At worst, it’s a slap in the face for those grieving the loss of a loved one.

Mourning the death of a loved one and being thankful that they lived is not an either/or situation. I am so thankful that Jason was born. I am so incredibly thankful he was born into our family. Being thankful for his life doesn’t mean that I don’t mourn his death or that I don’t miss him every day of my life. It’s an awfully huge assumption that both grief and thankfulness cannot co-exist.

Those who mourn should not to be judged or condemned for not being thankful. The Bible calls those who mourn blessed. Consider the words of Jesus said in the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3-10

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5&version=NIV

Hugs to all of you missing dearly loved ones today.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

Wishes…

I look at the pictures of Jason on my Nixplay digital photo as they rotate in the frame that sits right by my desk at work. Oh, how I wish I could go back in time to hug that precious little boy, tickle that cute little guy under his chin and hear his infectious laugh, play a card or board game with my lover of all games, bake chocolate chip cookies with my beautiful boy, sit and watch a movie, just BE together doing anything.

I love looking at the pictures, but some days the pain of his absence is almost too much to bear. Photographs and memories will never take the place of actually spending time with my precious boy.

I love you, my precious boy. I miss you with all my heart.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

Integrity

1f4362aafec4392ef99f84318a38010aOfficial definition: Firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.

Synonyms: character, decency, goodness, honesty, morality, probity, recited, righteousness, rightness, uprightness, virtue, virtuousness. Honesty, honor, integrity and probity mean uprightness of character or action. Honesty implies a refusal to lie, steal, or deceive in any way. Honor suggests an active or anxious regard for the standards of one’s profession, calling, or position. Integrity implies trustworthiness and incorruptibility to a degree that one is incapable of being false to a trust, responsibility, or pledge. Probity implies tried and proven honesty or integrity.

(https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/integrity)

Unofficial definition: Doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jason had great integrity, a heart to do what was right. He was honest. He was trustworthy. He was the guy that parents knew they could trust their daughters to go out with. He was the type of guy that showed up to work on time and did the best job he could, no matter what else was going on around him or whether anyone was watching. He was the guy that was kind to anyone.

In one of his college classes, a fellow small group project member had plagiarized a portion of Jason’s paper, one that Jason had generously consented to allowing the guy to read in order to help encourage this person’s effort in writing his own paper. The professor recognized enough similarities and called both of them in for cheating. Jason was horrified that his integrity was being called into question when he had simply been trying to help the other guy succeed in the class. Thankfully, the professor recognized what was going on and who was the real cheater. Jason’s integrity showed through.

My husband also has a great integrity. It’s one of the things that drew me to him. Joe worked in telecommunications, with his clients being some of the major hotels and universities in the greater Seattle area. He worked with the White House communications department, the office of the President of South Korea, actors, sports stars, major business companies. When working with government departments, he had to be cleared by the FBI just to step foot on any floor of the hotel the government entity had taken over. The thing about Joe is that he treated everyone with respect, whether his dealings involved the White House or the maid cleaning the toilet.

Jason was the same. He approached life with an openness, honesty and integrity that was just amazing. He was a true friend to his friends. He loved his family and friends unconditionally, forgave unconditionally. He was not embarrassed to show that he cared. He hugged those he loved, no matter who was watching. He was true to himself and his values. Whatever he did, he did with his whole heart and with integrity.

Integrity is treating people with respect, whether they are rich or poor, whether or not you personally benefit from the way you treat that person, whether or not anyone is watching or will every know what you did. Integrity is your actions matching up with what you profess to believe on Sunday. Integrity is not trying to make someone look bad just so you will look better. Integrity is owning up to your mistakes, genuinely saying you’re sorry, and trying to do better the next time.

Jason’s integrity is one of the things I miss about him. It is what inspires me to try harder and to do the best I can, no matter the circumstances.

I miss you, my precious boy.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney