Last week I saw a story on the news about a woman who lost her 94-year-old father after he battled an illness for a short time. The woman reflected on the task that many of us have dreaded: sorting through her father’s belongings and then deciding what and to whom you want to give them.
She would donate some to various charities and others gifted to relatives. There were two items she wanted to keep and that have taken on a new meaning for her. One was her father’s rocking chair. He loved that chair, and she remembers him enjoying it as it brought peace and comfort to him. Secondly, a blanket he would often wear that not only provided warmth and, as she said, “made him feel comfortable.”
Initially, she was reluctant to keep the items but thought about how they could be meaningful to her today. She enjoys the rocking chair and the comfort it brings her. She thinks about her father often and recalls him rocking in that chair, smiling and feeling happy. The blanket, too, has a new meaning. Just as it brought him warmth and peace, she feels surrounded by him as if he is wrapping his arms around her as he did so often when she was a little girl.
I thought about her words as I continued my journey after 17 months and continued to sort through my wife’s belongings. My wife and I were fans of a reality TV show called the Deadliest Catch. One of the captains, a rough and tough old sailor named Captain Wild Bill, was her favorite character. He has a line of products he sells with his ship’s logo. A few years back, I bought my wife one of the long sleeve shirts that she often wore to dialysis during the last years of her life. It was a little big for her, but she loved wearing that shirt. It made her feel strong, warm, and comfortable. She also wore it at the beach as we watched the waves crash into the shore and enjoyed the beauty of nature.
It has taken on a new meaning for me now. I often wear it and feel my wife’s presence and love when wearing the shirt. It’s getting slightly worn, but I keep it as clean and well maintained as possible. It reminds me of her as I feel her wrapped around me. It brings back so many great memories and lots of joy and smiles.
Yes, there are tears at times, but they are tears of joy as I feel her around me.
I firmly believe that transitional objects are an essential part of our growth in grief, from sadness to gratitude.
David Kessler is a bestselling author and expert in the field of grief. He worked with Dr. Elizabeth Kubler- Ross and recently, with the permission of Dr. Kubler -Ross’s estate, was permitted to write Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.
He talks about sorting through his late son’s clothing and other things. He laughed about keeping his son’s high school algebra book. He is confident his son would have said, “Seriously, Dad?” “What meaning does that have for you or me”?
Kessler uses that anecdote to encourage the bereaved to look for items that have meaning and that give you comfort and peace.
Brothers, what items do you keep that bring peace, comfort, and meaning to you? It’s a testimony to your late wife.