The difficulty of downsizing after death
By Jenny Filush-Glaze
I sat in her living room and looked around at all the things she chose to bring to this space, the battered rocking chair and handmade quilt on the loveseat, and random pictures hung reverently upon the walls. As I so often do, I asked about her choices, the items she brought with her and listened to the additional pain in her telling of her grief experience and the many things that have changed since the death of her husband.
You see, as is so common, she could no longer live in the home she resided in with her spouse for over forty years. The space was simply “too big” for her and the upkeep was more than she could manage. Also, her own health was declining and now she had adult children that were constantly “worrying” her and calling frequently to make sure she was ok. Sure, they offered for her to come and live with them — all of them did, but in her heart, she knew without a doubt that this was not something she wanted to do, and so together, they began the difficult task of exploring “other living arrangements.”
Imagine having a home filled with countless memories, not just of things adorning the home itself, but of all the events and family gatherings that had taken place there over the years, and then imagine that space “going away” and having to make hard choices as to what to take, what to give away and or what to gift to family and friends. In reality, when downsizing from a home into an assisted living facility, one can assume that less than a quarter of your belongings will actually be allowed to go with you because you are essentially moving from a large space to a tiny corner of a facility.
Now, I have seen some of the most amazing transformations of that given space — some warm and inviting and filled with “all the specials” needed to help create an environment that is comforting.
And, I have also seen the opposite — cold, sterile, nary a picture in a frame or trinket on the shelf that holds any kind of special meaning. The truth almost always lies in between in that “choosing” what to bring along with them and what to “let go of” is another form of grief that many overlook and often cannot understand the impact of as the transition is made.
So, when I have the privilege of sharing those spaces and I take in what remains of their life in terms of material things, it always warms my heart to hear the “telling” of those stories and why a particular item has been chosen to join them in this tiny semblance of a home they have created. I listen to raw emotion and sadness about things they have parted with and hear sadness in their voices when describing that this “little corner” is all they have left of a life well lived.
Now, many people haven’t even stopped to consider how painful this can be, so I ask you to consider it now and then do your best to make a transition such as this as pain free as possible.
Give ownership to the individual who is grieving and assist them in creating the most comforting and nurturing space possible, for grieving the death of a loved one is hard enough as it is, but to be relegated to a tiny space with only a few treasured possessions can be devastating.
Downsizing at the end of life is a part of the journey that no one anticipates having to go through, and yet, so many experience this daily. Honor your loved ones by acknowledging their pain and then do your best at being present as well as understanding during this difficult time.