Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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It’s Just Stuff…Right?

One of my businesses is called “Less Mess, Less Stress.” My “nickname” on my business cards is “The Clutter Cleaner.” I’ve been doing organizing for several years, but I don’t really advertise it. Usually I get someone by word of mouth and have one to two clients a year. It’s relatively physical work so that is just fine with me.

When I first started, it would be what I envisioned- helping people cleaning out that junk room, or maybe cleaning out the garage so you can actually park in it. Then for a while, it became more hoarding or condemned houses. Sometimes I would have to hire an entire crew and we would literally have to shovel the house out. The latest psychology diagnostic manual now actually has a diagnosis for hoarding. It has probably always been around, but now there is much more exposure.

I always say that this job overlaps quite a bit with my counseling profession. First of all, people’s relationship to their belongings is very emotional. Especially when there is grief involved, my counseling skills come in handy. Then there are the people who go beyond a bit of clutter. Often times their relationship is connected to something so much deeper. Even for myself, I say only half-kidding that I put my own disease to good use. I don’t actually have OCD, but I do have some traits. Organizing is an excellent outlet for that so I find a way to make it a strength.

I’ve been asked to speak on this topic a few times as well. One of my favorites was with the Buffalo marital attorney’s group. How ironic that a couple’s counselor was asked to talk to divorce lawyers. But not as a counselor, as an organizer. A poetic moment. Anyhow, I say that if you hire me, you will love your space (whatever it is you are working on) when I am finished. You probably will hate me, but you will love your house.

It is my job to help people let go of things. The vast majority of Americans need to downsize. You don’t need more space, you need less stuff. One of my sayings that I think is typically accurate.

Recently, we’ve been helping my dad make the big decision about when it is time to live in a smaller place where there isn’t so much upkeep. It’s not only a decision about housing, but about aging. Which is always about acceptance. And aging is about approaching death as well. Which is also about acceptance. It’s emotional for Dad, but also for all us kids too.

After months of no, no, no, Dad has decided he’s ready to move. And when he is ready, he means now. We have been trying to sell the house, find him a new place, downsize his belongings, and everything in between. Life has been a bit crazy. Some of the most fun times for us have been being together and going through cupboards and reminiscing about whatever. And some of the most tense times for us have been being together and going through cupboards and disagreeing whole heartedly about how to help Dad make the shift.

That’s where I have to remember I’m a daughter before an organizer. No one in my family has hired me to take this on. But I’m used to doing it so sometimes I get a little bit bossy. But I also think that initially Dad (like all of us) needed a little nudging to move forward. Now there is no stopping him and the rest of us can’t keep up. It has been interesting to observe how he has changed over the years. My niece has been gone over 15 years. My mom has been gone nine years. Tim has been gone over five. That doesn’t even seem possible.

Over the years we have gone through various memories and belongings and initially- and even for years- so many things were untouchable. They were sacred. No one could bear to part with anything. Just looking at things would cause us to tear up or have moments of actual crying. Now time has gone by. I ask Dad about certain things and he looks at me like, “Why would I want that?” I know without a doubt that he still deeply misses and loves all those people he has lost. But he is moving on. I want to be that way too. We don’t need boxes of things and pictures galore to remember our loved ones. I see it as growth and it’s healthy. After all, it’s just stuff, right? Well, that all depends on what year you are asking!


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Delayed Reaction

Frankie celebrated his twelfth birthday last week. For those of you that have been following us for a while, you might remember that one of the things that Tim did before he passed away, was to write birthday cards for Frankie until he turns 18. Tonight, Frankie and I read his card together.

But here is the thing. We just read it tonight. His birthday was the eighth. That was twelve days ago.

I was talking on the phone to a professor from one of the colleges that is going to book me to speak at one of their interdisciplinary training days. During that conversation, I remembered the card. Frankie was camping with his aunt so that brings us to the late date in reading it.

At first, I was quite distraught. I felt horrible and guilty for not remembering the card on the day of his birthday. What does that mean? Tim is still a part of our lives every single day. A few days ago, my friend and I were playing Yahtzee and I came across one of Tim’s score sheets. I recognized his perfect handwriting immediately. I showed it to Frankie and then I noticed the date was 1998. That was two years before I even met Tim. It caused me some teary eyed moments. It always gets to me when the reminder is unexpected. My friend told me later that she saw my face and was worried that the night was going to be ruined for me. But it was a few minutes and then it passed.

The point of that story, was that seeing his writing didn’t jerk my memory about the birthday card either. It wasn’t until the phone conversation I had later.

When I sat down with Frankie and the card, I asked him if he was upset that I forgot about it earlier. Of course, he had forgotten about it, too. He was not upset with me. He liked the card. I think I saw a little mist in his eyes, but it was a good shared moment.

I’ve been processing all of this. I’ve seen the look on a face or two when I’ve told the story. A couple of people looked like I was feeling- surprised that I had majorly screwed up like that. But it did start to occur to me, that maybe this is a positive thing. We love Tim. We miss him. We think about him every day. But maybe we are also starting to move on, just a little bit further. Maybe it is good that we are not hanging on in the same way. We are remembering him, but are also living in the present. Frankie agreed with me. Rather than being angry with me, we shared a moment of being thankful for Tim’s incredible thoughtfulness, but felt free to be moving on at the same time.

Or maybe I’m just rationalizing a major screw-up.

But I don’t think so. It was a good night.