By Marni Jameson
So, apparently, I have another book coming out. It wasn’t my idea. My best ideas usually aren’t. The credit (or blame?) goes to an editor at the publishing house that published my last book, “Downsizing the Family Home,” (January 2016, Sterling). That book chronicled my eye-widening journey of clearing out my childhood home where my dear and now departed parents lived for 50 years.
Writing it all down was all that kept me from sitting in some back alley lapping straight whiskey out of a trashcan lid.
This editor read the book when she was about to clear out her parents’ home. “I leaned on it to help me through one of the toughest times of my life,” she said. “I only wish it had come with a journal.”
“A workbook to help sort all the emotions along with the stuff and record the history of what happened,” she said, “a place to tell the story.”
The story! Of course. We all need to tell our stories. (Editors are maddening that way, always pointing out what still needs to be written, when it’s as obvious as dawn.)
Right after I turned in the manuscript for Downsizing the Family Home – A Workbook, (https://www.amazon.com/Downsizing-Family-Home-Marni-Jameson/dp/145492652X), due out in January, as if by some cosmic confirmation, I got an advance copy of “Getting Grief Right,” by Dr. Patrick O’Malley, due out July 1 (Sounds True Publishing).
Why am I getting a book on grief? I wondered, then noted the subtitle, “Finding Your Story of Love in the Sorrow of Loss.” Ahh, of course. Insert blinking lightbulbs. What the insightful editor, this author, and many of my readers have astutely observed is this plain truth: Downsizing – whether our home or our loved one’s – trips feelings of loss, and loss makes us grieve. And who in their right mind would sign on for that?
“Embracing the story of loss, and having people to share your stories with is really important,” said O’Malley, a grief counselor in Fort Worth, Texas, whose book encourages journaling as a way of dealing with loss.
“Whether we’re dealing with loss through death or living loss, as in the case of divorce, we grieve both the person, and the possessions that represent the person,” he said. “Saying good bye to material items is part of the story, and journaling about the process is a way of honoring the act.”
Here are more of his insights about loss, love, life and letting go:
- Fear not. “When you define grief as the result of love there is less to be afraid of,” said O’Malley. “Clearing out a family home, and experiencing the resulting grief because you loved takes you through the full array of human experience. If you’re not available to that, you miss out on much of what it means to be human.”
- Don’t move on. O’Malley, who writes of grief from first-hand experience having lost an infant son, rails at those who believe grief happens in stages that you move through. “Having a checklist is very tempting because grief is so disorienting,” he said. “People think they need to do grief right, and get over it within a certain time frame. That’s not how it is. You don’t move on from grief. You integrate it into your life. What we do with loss is now part of our story.”
- Treat downsizing as a ritual. Give the process of going through a house the respect it deserves. Don’t minimize the task; this is not like cleaning out the refrigerator. Rather this is a rite of passage, part of being human, and should be approached with intention, care, and acknowledgement.
- Feel the love. As you sort, step back into the love you shared with this person, said O’Malley. “If this were a good close relationship, feel it.”
- Don’t be hard on yourself. If the process brings up a lot of difficult feelings, that’s a normal, healthy response. Don’t be critical of yourself for having these feelings.
- Allow for the differences. Grief does not conform to any one pattern, O’Malley said. “It’s important to understand that when working with family members. You can create a lot of unnecessary tension by insisting someone is going too fast or too slow, or is too clingy or too unfeeling. Proceed with respect and without judgment, otherwise you risk creating fractures in the family.”
- Tell your story. The way forward is through stories, O’Malley said. “The stuff has stories. What happens to the stuff becomes part of the story, the story of the stuff. By journaling, you get to serve as witness your own life.”
- Why bother? That sad question occasionally scudded across my mind after I cleared out my childhood home, lost both parents and got divorced all in the space of four years. That, too, is common, said O’Malley. “When you suffer a major loss, you hit the wall of that existential question: What’s the meaning of all this? And you must decide: Do you stop living, or do you continue to engage, and love, and grow, knowing that by doing so, you will create more loss? That’s up to you.” But one thing’s for sure. Writing it all down helps.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.