“It’s not about the stuff, it’s about the process.”
We lost my dad in February. I asked my stepmom if I could help her go through his things. She said yes. When I brought it up again, she said she was pretty much done but she had some stuff set aside for my brother and I. I was very upset by her answer. I wasn’t looking for his stuff.
She and my dad moved about two hours away from the rest of our family ten years ago. After that, I went from seeing him every few days to every few months. At the busiest times in our lives, those visits dropped to a few times a year. When he was diagnosed with cancer last summer we made point to get up to see him every weekend with the exception of a couple months (one where we had plans every weekend, one where he did). We were reminded how valuable, yet how limited time is.
However, with him having been far away, it’s hard for it to sink in for me that he’s actually gone now. He’s just two hours away, right? So I need rituals to move out of the denial stage of grief. The first was after his service, when the family went back to the house but he wasn’t there. That was eerie. The second was yesterday, when my son and I cleaned out the drawers in his bedroom.
On the drive home, we both agreed that we needed that process for closure. But we also agreed that, contrary to what we thought going into the day, we had fun. My dad was a collector. Some of the stuff we found resulted in a history lesson for my 16 year old son. (Well, Nick, way back in the 1990’s, before iPhones, your mommy had a pager. Let me explain how they worked…) Some things reminded us of dad’s sense of humor and had us laughing with him. Some things just plain had us laughing because they were so human (raise your hand if your family will one day find 8 nail clippers because you can never find yours, so you just buy another one).
When we left, we had a Rubbermaid tote half full. Most of the space was taken up with two quilts my great grandmother made. Most of the “stuff” went in the trash. A few small things were sentimental; things I remember from my childhood. I kept those. The process is definitely making me rethink the things I hold onto knowing that someday, someone is going to have to deal with them. I hope that when they do, they get to laugh and reminisce, tell stories (even if they’re at my expense), keep the things that spark joy for them and release the rest either to someone who needs it or the trash. And remember that it’s not about the stuff, it’s about the process.
(Don’t get me wrong, he collected what mattered too. 🙂 Dad last Christmas with his kids, their other halfs, grandkids, Godkids, and wife.)