Many families wonder how to help a senior when they have lost a spouse, as this time can be very hard on older loved ones who now facing having to be on their own. You may need to work on sorting through belongings with your senior after this loss, but you need to be cautious to move forward gently so as not to cause additional pain.
Cherish the memories while letting go of the physical items
Open to Hope shares that the process of going through a deceased loved one’s belongings can be one of the most challenging parts of moving forward. There is no perfect timing for tackling a project like this, but getting rid of things too quickly can add to one’s grief later. Give your family member support and let them decide when they are ready so you don’t add to their pain.
One of the reasons that this sorting process can be so difficult is that seniors may feel as if they are discarding memories, not just things. Reassure your senior that while the physical item may no longer be present, the memories are still cherished and it is not disrespectful to the deceased spouse or those memories to find new homes for those items.
Document the history of your family’s heirlooms
Embrace the opportunity to revisit valuable memories and cherish your family’s history when going through these items. You will come upon a number of family heirlooms that signify key moments in your loved one’s past and you do not want to gloss over understanding the story attached to these things.
Allow your older loved one to share these stories in as much detail as they can. This can help them work through their grieving process and these tales will be treasured by other family members. Write down the specifics related to each item if possible so details do not get lost over time.
Store what your senior needs to keep for now
Deciding what to do with these sentimental items can be difficult. First, determine what your senior wants to hold onto themselves. If they do not have room in their home to keep these things, put them into storage for safekeeping. While you cannot hold onto everything, do allow some room to keep particularly sentimental pieces.
Take care in preserving these items properly to ensure they do not deteriorate while stored away. If you do not have the resources to store these heirlooms safely, protect them from heat, cold, moisture, or pests, it is best to give them away.
Find ways to honor and use the items now
Consider what items might be cherished by other family members. Letting others appreciate those items now is a more valuable use of heirlooms than stashing them away somewhere, especially if you take the time to share the history and meaning of the object. Passing things on at this point, rather than waiting until after the senior is gone, also ensures that the pieces go where intended.
There are some creative ways that you can hold onto meaningful items in new ways. Pick out a few special clothing items and have them made into a decorative pillow, custom wallet or purse, quilt, or something like a memory bear. An old wedding gown can be made into a christening gown, and some other memorable pieces can be turned into wall art.
It is never easy to sort through belongings after a family loss, but things can get especially sentimental for seniors. Be supportive of how your loved one is feeling and listen to the stories they share about cherished family heirlooms. You may find that you need to repurpose, sell, donate, or store many of these treasures, but this is time well-spent for your senior as they process their loss and go through memories of days gone by.
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