the things left behind after someone dies at home

My mother has recently gone from taking care of my great uncle to handling the paperwork and selling his house. He was meticulous and spartan, but we found his wife’s perfume, his grandfather’s pistol (an antique more than a weapon), and other small sentimental items tucked away in his bedroom.

Most people have more personal items than he did. It took months for us to sort through my other great uncle’s things (some of which are still in boxes in my mother’s basement, nearly 15 years later). Bob wrote about the process of going through and finding new homes for Annie’s things and it got quite a reaction.

Going through people’s things after they’ve died or become completely incapacitated can be a very emotional process. Here’s what our community had to say:

Holding on

Very unexpected things become extraordinarily precious. The surprising nature of grief takes getting used to. – Susan G.

It has been 6 months since my husband passed and I still cannot bring myself to go through his things. – Susan B.

[It took] 7 years [to go through belongings] here. My mom collected so much and she had items from other deceased relatives. Finally going through it all. Started with 92 boxes. Down to 20ish. One day at a time. – Diane D.

It’s been 19 months yesterday since my husband passed and two tears since my daughter passed. Still can’t go thru the clothes and personal belongings. I have donated his bed, wheelchair and numerous other things to charity. – Marie D.

My son passed 4 years ago, I still have all his belongings, except his wheelchair and hospital bed, that was donated to someone who needs it. – Trish M.

I have what I call the ‘Abby closet’ for my daughter. Moving everything into there was difficult, but necessary. I open when I need to, but it’s still pretty painful. Still have all of her meds, and even the backpack that hung on her wheelchair still has the belongings in it. Have no idea when I will go through all of it, not anytime soon. It’s not even been two months, so I’m sure that’s normal. – Carly L.

We all deal with a passing in different ways…personal to ourselves. Everybody directly involved or not should allow one another to take their own time with dealing with a death. Rushing or being forced to part with special belongings may cause irreparable personal damage. We are all different. We all need to show one another some empathy and wait until all persons concerned are ready to part with belongings. If that day does not come… then we need to accept that that is how it is going to be. – Janette C.

I could give away most of my husband’s clothes except his favorite t-shirts and hats. His other things are still waiting for me to let them all go. Final goodbye to everything that was connected to him is the most difficult. Getting there very slowly. – Elaine W.

One year since my favorite uncle passed and I still have his stuff…can’t bear to let it go. – Kathleen S.

Too busy

My house is full if boxes of my mom’s stuff. I even have a storage unit i pay for every month. And she is still alive. She had to move to board and care. I had to keep working to take care of her. In the meantime I feel like I am living in a storage unit. – Karen G.

Feeling guilty

I lost my mom 6 months ago, I am having trouble bringing myself to go through her stuff, everytime I try I feel as if I’m throwing her away. – Rebecca S.

Couldn’t bear the loss of a parent more so a spouse. I still keep their things and place as they were to this day. Feel like i’d lose them completely if i disposed or hid any of their things… – Renato T.

A source of comfort

Justine made a quilt out of her husband's clothesI think that whatever comforts you is ok. If your husband’s things stay where they are forever, it’s ok. It’s about what you need, not what anyone else says or thinks. – NC L.

It has been 5 months since my husband passed…I still wrap myself in some of his shirts for comfort. – Linda H.

I lost my husband in January and I still have to keep his clothes in the closet so I can put my face in there, smell and feel his clothes. – Susan K.

I had quilts made for my brother and me made out of my father’s clothes. – Linda S.

Justine made a bracelet out of the buttons from her husband's shirtsSome ideas I found to be quite therapeutic. I had a quilt made out of my husband’s clothing. Another idea is to make jewelry out of the buttons. – Justine C.

Family complications

I think what makes it harder, is a family member, who has not been around to help with the caregiving, decides they want and deserve to have whatever they want, out of the personal belongings of the deceased. – Leslie J.

When my mom passed away all H— broke loose — after spending all my time going through the rest of a storage container and boxing up her things for auction (she lived with me her last 4 years), some of “my family” decides they don’t want anything to do with her personal things — they didn’t know mom at all. Although not how should be, her things meant the world to her (and also her family meant alot to her, too) — hopefully soon everyone will get their share and they can move on with their lives. – Sherry L.

Some people want to get everything over with quickly and forget. They think that will be easier. – NC. L.

Helping others

If you donate the items she “lives on” thru the person using it. Clothing can be a “gift” to a homeless shelter, salvation army, etc. – Elaine D.

Finding your own way

Whatever is in your heart is how long it will take. Be kind to yourself. The heartache does not go away. It does not get easier. You just gain coping skills to accept and move on as they would want you to. In your own time! – Diane D.

Written by Cori Carl
As Director, Cori is an active member of the community and regularly creates resources for people providing care.

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87 Comments

  1. My Mom passed July 2016. Her home was packed full of stuff. After her service we took a few weeks for a much needed break after 3 yrs of taking care of her. My siblings & I made a plan of action. The task went smoothly, just took a long time. No fights, donated most of the clothes and kitchen items. It’s funny, the oddest and least valuable stuff meant the most to each of us for sentimental reasons. Lesson learned, we need to sort and cull our stuff, so our chuldren & siblings do not have a monumental task when our time comes.

    Reply
  2. I’ve helped a few families do this as a caregiver. It hurts every time… one of the hardest things to do.

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  3. Three years ago we cleaned out and sold my parents home of 55 years and moved them to live with my husband and I in the Midwest. It was hard to clean out a house with that many years of stuff. For years I dreaded having to clear out their home after they passed. Thankfully my siblings, cousin and nephew all helped to accomplish that goal. Within 6 months of their arrival my husband was diagnosed with a terminal disease and lived another 14 months. I am so grateful I had my parents with me for help and support during my husband’s last months. We have since moved to another home and I still have my husband’s clothes and belongings packed away in boxes. I cannot bring myself to start sorting through his clothes, shoes and lots and lots of jackets.
    My kids have taken a few items here and there but will be here to help when I finally decide I am ready to look through and make decisions on what to do with his personal things.
    We still have some of his medical equipment and wheelchair van, just in case I may need it for my parents.
    In the long run, I am amazed at how things have come to pass. Sold my parents home while they were still alive. They were with me through my husband’s illness and death. We moved to our forever home and I am not alone.

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  4. Yeah I drove up into my dad’s driveway and I just broke down. Couldn’t do it. I can’t even go to his house.

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  5. HI every awesome caregiver. My name is Teresa Gonzales and I’ve been taking care of my 92 year old wonderful dear friend. She is no longer my client she is my family.. I’ve been taking care of her for over 4 years working 5 days 24 hours around the clock. She can’t walk and I sleep with her in her bedroom because she doesn’t like to be alone. This is not a job to me.. it’s my way of life. Well her heart is failing her and has been given at the most 6 months to live.. maybe less. I’m having a very hard time dealing with this.. I don’t want to let her go.. I’m not ready.

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    • i am 80 years old, my husband is 92 and in a wheelchair. I just cannot keep up with my household. I just need someone like a mother helping me doing dishes, help with the laundry.. i need dusting and keeping the floor vacuumed.I need someone i can trust and depend on.I used to do all the cooking, we had meals on wheels, but that got old very quickly. our garden is neglected. Bill took care of it, but now he is not able.,

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  6. I took care of Mom and Dad in my home at one time both in home hospice. I donated wheel chairs hospital beds,walkers canes and such to our family church. So many times people need these for a short time. They had an apartment in our house after they passed too much pain and would get sick to my stomach. WE moved best decision I could have made.

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  7. Can be ? No it is hell

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  8. I could use some help. I lost my paternal grandmother 11/1/16, my maternal grandmother 12/12/16 (my best friend) and my dad 12/24/16 (my hero) I’m trying to keep pictures from the 1800’s in the family and family keepsakes but my mom and brother and sister in law just want to get rid of all of it. So my grandmothers estate sale is also my dads estate sale. I’m completely heartbroken at what my mom is getting rid of. I am at a loss of what to do. They were the only people that were there for me and I don’t know what to do. I’m still in the grieving process and it’s all so hard.

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  9. I am still working on this after 18 months. clothes were eary but so many other things are had A wife of 38 years is hard to l wipe out of the home

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  10. WOW! Mom died 4.12.17 and we lived in an independent senior apartment community (this community allows seniors with caregivers based on population) her services have been held and I started packing to move today (because I was technically was not the resident I have to be moved out by 5.31.17). Although its been almost a month I am dreading the process. Thank you for this article.

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  11. Stephanie Ryder that’s a lot to deal with but hope that as time goes by the heartache eases. It’s a tough thing to do my sis and bro had to but ultimately it was me who did the final cleanout saying mom, dad thanks I felt their presence in each room. God’s strength to you during this time!

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  12. yes it can be very difficult. i lost my partner of 25 yrs, 04-03-2016…..to date i am just now trying to address what to do with her personal items, pictures and things she had thru school years and college. Her family seems to show no interest. I am keeping related things to her and me. I feel the family would want things. I just don’t want to toss out her life, so to speak of. I cry just thinking that she worked all her life to get things she wanted and just to destroy things. I just cant do. It is so sad. I cried often just trying to go through boxes and personal items. I took care of her when she became bed ridden for 11.5 yrs. She wanted to die, because she had no life. she got her wish. but it is so hard for me right now. I am ok with the fact she is in heaven. But the everyday reminder is killing me. As our home goes every square inch reminds me of happier times, which in turn makes it hard for me. how do i cope with this? suggestions helpful.thanks

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    • Maybe her family are just struggling with their grief more than her material things. Maybe you could box up some of her personal items you think they may want and mail them or drop them off. They can open it when their ready emotionally

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    • Sincere condolences Terry. My husband died 6 months ago and I’m doing an online course with dailyom.com called ‘a year to clear what’s holding you back’ and I’m finding the gentle daily messages very useful. It’s by Stephanie Bennett Vogt. I’ve also joined an online support group for widowed people called WAYUP as it’s good to talk to people who understand what we are going through. x

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  13. I kept everything. I could not get rid of anything that was my boys. Being without him has been painful. I donated his equipment and medical supplies. A beautiful friend gave me a chest that I keep my baby’s things in and I can go in there anytime and hold my boys things. Means so much.

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  14. I lost my parents about two years ago. They passed within a day of one another. After 65 years of marriage they really never left each others side. At the time there were terrible fires here in California. I donated all their bedding and a lot of the kitchen items to the fire victims. I knew my folks would be proud to know they they were able to help some many people in need. Most of their clothing went to Veterans. My folks were always caring and giving people. It did my heart good to know that they were still able to give.

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  15. I am in the process of cleaning out my late beloved parents home. They passed away a little over a year ago and they passed within two months of each other. It’s better when I go into their home alone. I sit and go through as if I have forever to clean out their home. I look at the cards my dad gave to my mother on various holidays and birthdays, that she never threw away. I look at the pictures, the notes they left for each other. It’s just a sad trip down memory lane…but I need to do it alone, in peace and in quiet. I miss my parents so much…

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  16. Moving your parent from their hm into yours is just so emotional

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  17. I lost my hubby 10 months ago. Last week I was able to throw out magazines he saved. Still can’t pack up his stamp collection in the hobby room nor empty his dresser.

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    • Just do what you are able. It took me 2 years to get all done, I drug my feet on his everyday clothes. HARD.

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  18. It will be 2 yrs in June my Dad passed away, I was his caregiver n I still am inable to go in his room or go thru his desk, one day, maybe one day

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  19. Been there, it tears your heart strings! then later, you wish you still had so & so!

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  20. I know the feelings very well. Mom moved to assisted living in October, 2015 and Mom had gently cared for momentos from our Grandparents, Great Aunt Lena, and Aunt Ellen & Uncle Charlie. Going through those things brought back memories from my youth, deeply buried in the recesses of my heart and memories. I have given most of these momentosxa to family members and I am posting pix on Facebook!

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  21. Good reminder to us to clear out our own “stuff”!

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  22. It’s just what has to be done. I’ve done it multiple times.

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    • Just saying it is very emotional especially if it is a parent or primary caregiver 24 / 7 as I have done the same and know for a lot of caregivers it is not easy

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  23. after living at my parents for 5+ years taking care of them both until they passed (with my own home sitting empty just 10 miles away), it took me another 14 months to get their house cleaned, sorted and organized and then the remainder moved to my house. then another year or so to get boxes stacked three high off of my dining room table.
    the basement and second bedroom are packed. in my own time it will get further sorted through.

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  24. I still have so many things from my children they are just part of the house some are used some are treasured I have a fear of having nothing left as well as being overwhelmed by the amount of stuff they had. This is over 10 and 6 years on. It’s a difficult one.

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  25. When my husband was dying at the hospital, I knew to do all his laundry at home. And it helped after he passed, just a little bit. His things I gave some to close friends for mementos, and kept some. But it took awhile to get rid of most of it.

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  26. My Mom died last week… She died at home..the hospital bed is gone…still cant go in her room yet

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    • I’m sorry for your loss

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    • I’m so very sorry for your loss. God Bless you and your family and help you be strong when needed. But you are allowed to mourn, so don’t force yourself too soon.

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    • Give yourself some time. It’s not something that has to be done over night.

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  27. My parents moved in with me and my husband lived with us for 12 years. The last 3 were difficult Mom had a stroke and never walked again Dad congestive heart failure diabetic. Dad passed one year after Moms stroke at 92 I had to clear out most of his things too much for Mom to look at each day. Mom passed almost one year to the day as dad. Cleaning out the apartment they had in our home broke my heart each time I tried. Finally I cleaned everything and sold our home of 16 years. I kept what I could but most of the furniture and kitchen was given to charity. One of the hardest things I have ever had to do. So happy I could be there for them but so alone after!

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  28. I cleaned out my grmas house when she was admitted to memory care as we’d been forced to pay the bills for the house while fighting for guardianship. I sold very little, gave the clothes to the church who gave them to people in need, gave furniture, dishes, her cars etc to family. I contacted my grmas former step daughter when I realized grma had her father’s Masons ring, photos & probably many other things that should’ve gone to their family when he passed away as I didn’t feel right about doing anything with those things. I think everyone was grateful. The only things I wanted were the rings grma had worn everyday. I just recently got married & had bands made with diamonds from both of my grmas.

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  29. After my husband died, (8/10/15) I was able to care for my 87yr old mom. In order to do that, I HAD to get rid of 99% of his stuff. Then, with mom’s help, we sold/gave away ALL of her furniture/household goods and most of her clothes. She died 3/30/16. So thankful she was able to be the decision maker of that stuff. My basement is FULL of boxes from her bedrooms, attic and basement.

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  30. I’m the type that will get rid of everything right away … only to regret it. Maybe I’m thinking the mourning/feeling of such loss will disappear as quickly as the material stuff.

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  31. I’ve always wondered how people adjust to giving their loved ones things away after they have passed away. Sometimes I think people hold on to the things so that they don’t have to truly say goodbye.
    It’s part of that person. And if you give it away then your saying they are truly gone. . But in the long run you can Bless so many people that can use these things. Your loved one will always be with you. In your heart, memories, pictures. Hold on to the most treasured pieces and bless someone with the rest. ✝

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  32. Very well said I’m still finding it hard to clean out different parts of husbands toys (work shed )phoning people to cancel a bill this feels like another part of him gone .our first year of him gone is just about there 1/2/2016

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  33. It took me 3 years , to sell or giveaway my husband things guess I thought if I keep his things he would come back to me .

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  34. I have started to clear out my clutter, including that which belonged to my mother, my uncle and my aunt. I have also to clear out what my husband will no longer use as he is in a nursing home now. I have passed on some of his equipment to another man suffering the same debilitating condition as him and it has been appreciated.

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    • I seem to be the repository of everyone else’s “unwanted but too good to throw away” stuff as well. I must attempt a small amount each day. I must …

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  35. My kids are dreading it, but I don’t think for sentimental reasons. I’ve just got so much stuff…

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  36. Not looking forward to that day. Moms kidneys are failing.

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  37. My hubby & I moved 150 miles to live w/my mom so she could remain in her own home 3 years before she passed. It’s been a year and a half since my mom died and the house is ours now and filled w/my mom’s things. I am still surrounded by her stuff. Every now and then I will clean out another drawer or closet and am slowly getting rid of more. Next summer I am going to do a big purge and have a rummage sale.

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  38. It’s very hard been almost 3 years since my Grandmother that I cared for passed, just can’t bring myself to go through everything yet. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

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  39. Our whole family went through our mother’s things and yes it was so hard when my mother past

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  40. My garage is now unusable. Full of things from both my sister in law and mother in law. It was obvious the junk to get rid of but struggling on things that probably do have value. And sorting through photos and things to save. It is exhausting.

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  41. My mom passed away in Oct. I go into the house sit in a chair and look around knowing I have to start going through things but am having a really hard time I am a only child and so there will only be me going through everything it is so hard.

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    • All your friends are here to help. Just call sweet friend and I’ll be there.

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    • You will know when the time is right to keep only the pleasant memories, then pass along items that will bring joy and usefulness to others. Am an only child also…and still have Nona’s transport chair that has seen so many visits to family, friends and especially restaurants. It was passed along to Susan’s mom, then came back to us.

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    • Oh yes, and I actually had to use her walker for awhile after my dirt bike tumble.

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    • I so relate. I am an only child with no husband, and no children because my marriage did not work. My mom is nearing her last breath and it has been a hard journey all the way. It is hard enough to lose , but alone is worse.

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  42. Have done this so many times, it is a terrible experience to have to go through..

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  43. I lost my father in August. While he was still with me I tried to go through some of his items and get the “story” about the item. It was and still hard to go through his items. My mom passed 7 years ago and we still had some of her items, too. Memories.

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  44. It is very hard especially when it feels like you have no support

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  45. My mother passed 8 months ago & I still haven’t managed to pack up her belongings yet.

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  46. My dad last January we lived in home I still have not done his things

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  47. We did this last summer, very exhausting, emotionally and physically.

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  48. My Dad’s death was sudden. As a family, we did it 3 weeks afterwards. For us, doing it sooner rather than later enabled us to move forward. However, Dad had downsized considerably, so there was not a whole lot. It was still though.

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  49. Thank you for posting. I’m going to copy the last comment on a note card and carry it around with me as a reminder not to kowtow to or be browbeaten by someone else’s agenda: “Finding your own way:
    Whatever is in your heart is how long it will take. Be kind to yourself. The heartache does not go away. It does not get easier. You just gain coping skills to accept and move on as they would want you to. In your own time! – Diane D.”

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    • Exactly!
      Do it with your own time. Don’t listen to no one but yourself, spirit, gut!

      Reply
  50. Try doing it while they’re still here with you. Same feelings.
    It’s horrible.

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  51. When my best friend passed away unexpectedly just after her 38th birthday, her family came to go through her belongings. After they were done it was up to me to deal with the remainders. Luckily my other best friends all stepped in to help. If not for them the apartment would still be a mess and I would be worse. Reminiscing and sharing stories about her while we packed and clean up was probably the best of all possible scenarios to help us all deal with the grief and mourning we needed to do.

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  52. I lost my son who was 26 on May 2nd of this year.
    I was his main caregiver his whole life.
    He became disabled at the age of 18 months.
    I have not dealt with any of hie things. His room and his stuff remain exactly the way it was the day he passed away.

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  53. My mother didn’t have a whole lot of stuff, but it was quite a bit. She went into a nursing home, and we are renting out her house. First we had an estate sale, which was disappointing. She did have a few antiques which sold, of course. Dishes, linens, rugs – they just didn’t sell (it was the biggest weekend of the year for garage sales, and neighborhood sales!) … Then I made innumerable trips back and forth giving some of her better clothes to charity. A brother came from across the country and took a couple pieces of furniture and some odds and ends. We told our renter to either get rid of what was left over or store it in the basement. She had bags and bags and bags of stuff when I went over there this summer and it took all my might not to look through those bags, lol. Sadly, there was a big box filled with every single photo to ever come into that house, Mom just tossed pictures in the box for 40-50 years. I kept a handful, brother took some. No one else wanted any, though I sent some to people whose pictures had been taken way back when. … I don’t know how people do it without any help, I only WISH I had a big family just itching to swoop down and take stuff away.

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  54. Thank you for sharing these stories. It makes me feel better. My siblings cleaned out my mother’s house in a matter of weeks after her passing (not to mention putting her house up for sale). Being my mother’s main caregiver, I had much difficulty with this way of thinking. I still do. So it helps to read these stories. Peace to all of the struggling ones out there.

    Reply

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