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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mental Health and Wellbeing - letting go of the Physical things after a Death

Posted by patrick

By Lenore Miller

Many of us hold onto physical things as reminders of an occasion, a person or a feeling. Sometimes we hang on to these things as a way of holding onto a person we have lost through death or divorce or some other relationship breakdown. Maybe we are hanging onto a happy memory or experience by keeping something as a physical reminder. Most of us will have experienced one or more of these situations, I know I have.

Whilst it's ok to keep mementos while ever that feels like a good thing to do, what if that holding on becomes unhealthy or counterproductive? Then maybe it's time to do some letting go!

In the months after Ryan's death the sight of his room and his things certainly bought me to tears, it was hard to believe one of my gorgeous boys no longer walked this earth, no longer here for me to hug and tell him I love him 'lots and lots and more and more and lots and lots' (a tradition from when the boys were little and asked 'how much to do you love me Mummy?'); he was no longer here slamming doors (he was noisy as he went about his business) and lighting up rooms, bringing smiles to people's faces and laughing with that wonderful contagious laugh. He chatted incessantly, till I would ask him for the edited version of a story and he was passionate about the things that were important to him. He thought his younger brother Bryce was fabulous, they were best mates. He loved a family or social occasion; he was an all round nice guy - loved by all who had the pleasure of spending time with him.

So to stand at his bedroom door or lie on his bed seeing what he saw when he was in his room was just so very hard back in those days. The balance between grieving in a way that is congruent with mental health and wellness , given the circumstances, and feeling totally unhinged was a very fine line indeed.

A few months after Ryan's death I had decided to sort through his clothes, however others who were very close to Ryan were not ready for that and I packed them back into the wardrobe again. Time went by and for a long while it just felt too hard. However in recent months the room started to feel 'heavy' for me and I knew I needed to make a move. Funny how not doing it was preserving my mental health and wellness at one point and then later not doing it was having a different impact! I floated the idea with Bryce (my younger son) who offered to help and we spent a day together in Ryan's room sorting through everything, school books, photos, clothes, soccer and cricket trophies, paperwork, things from his 3 months traveling the world. We created piles of things we thought would be special to others, kept some things we just couldn't throw or give away yet and everything else was bundled up and taken to the local charity shop - I was feeling so much lighter. Thank goodness Bryce is not a hoarder either! We moved the future into the shed, including the desk my parents gave me on my 8th birthday (it was way past time to let that one go) and it is all being collected by a charity for re -gifting or resale.

At that time I was experiencing all kinds of emotions, sometimes I was sad beyond words, others I was angry or felt guilty (after all I was a Mum I should have been able to make this right) I had times of total disbelief and others of inconsolable grief and despair. All part of the process of dealing with the unthinkable. Over time I had the odd better moment, then maybe a day when I didn't cry, eventually I had more good days than sad days, and finally life took on a new normal. I had chosen to live my life. In fact my son had set a fabulous example he had lived a life of joy and enthusiasm.

A few months after Ryan's death I had decided to sort through his clothes, however others who were very close to Ryan were not ready for that and I packed them back into the wardrobe again. Time went on and for a long time it just felt too hard. However in recent months the room started to feel 'heavy' for me and I knew I needed to make a move. I floated the idea with Bryce (my younger son) who offered to help and we spent a day together in Ryan's room sorting through everything, school books, photos, clothes, soccer and cricket trophies, paperwork, things from his 3 months traveling the world. We created piles of things we thought would be special to others, kept something we just couldn't throw or give away yet and everything else was bundled up and taken to the local charity shop - I was feeling so much lighter. Thank goodness Bryce is not a hoarder either! We moved the future into the shed, including the desk my parents gave me on my 8th birthday (it was way past time to let that one go) and it is all being collected by a charity for resifting or resale.

The room now feels lighter, there is a different bed in there with a different quilt, and it is uncluttered and has a whole new feel. I am planning to put something new on the wall and maybe even paint it a fresh new colour. Ryan's room is now a spare room or guest room in our home.

So why am I telling you all of this - because it struck me that we often 'hang on' to things in our life as a representation of a memory or person. We won't part with things we no longer have use for because Great Aunt Dorothy gave that too us, or it belonged to a grandparent or parent. We equate the thing with a memory, the person or feeling, however things are NOT the memory they may provoke the memory when we hold or look at them. If we let go off all the things we no longer have a use for we do not let go of the memory, that memory stays with us forever and can be recalled whenever we like. So let's be real about this, if I kept everything that Ryan ever owned how would that help me? A room of clutter that was not useful to anyone and held me and my family stuck in the sadness of our loss. In letting go of the 'things' I feel lighter and freer and have gifted everything that was useful to others and kept the things Bryce or I were not yet ready to let go of, I have no doubt over time that collection will also diminish. I have wonderful memories of my gorgeous boys; both of them, of the joy of being their Mum and watching them grow into wonderful young men, making their way in the world having some interesting learning experience, what a gift. As a Mum I don't need anything to remember every moment of my time with them.

So what are you holding onto in your life that could be used by someone else, what baggage are you holding onto either physically or emotionally. I believe part of living an outrageously healthy life is finding appropriate ways to deal with life's challenges. Let's face it not every moment of our lives is filled with sweetness and light, it's a life of contrast. We have a fabulous opportunity while on this earth to share of ourselves with the world in all our magnificence. So this is my gift to you today 'Things are not memories nor are they the people who owned them, gave them too you, or left them behind!' Give yourself the gift of letting go of any baggage either physical or emotional, allow yourself to experience the joys of mental health and wellness everyday, and live your best, most outrageously healthy life.

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