April 3, 2012 in Features

Late spouse’s clothing plays key part in grieving process

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Q. How soon is too soon to get rid of my dead husband’s clothes? I wanted to do it the week after he died. My grown children were appalled. They said they wanted to go through his clothes and select a few to keep. But they never make time for this. Advice?

A. Grief experts universally agree you should keep a loved one’s belongings for several months, because grieving people can feel numb for weeks and even months after a death. Not the best state of mind for good decisions.

“When we give things away suddenly and impulsively, we (often) want them back. There is no getting them back. They are gone,” said Heidi Horsley, a Manhattan psychologist and co-founder of the Open to Hope Foundation, an online forum offering grief support.

Best bet? Place your husband’s clothes in bins with an agreed-upon time to reopen the discussion with your children.

And consider using pieces of your husband’s clothes to make memory items for your children, such as quilts. Horsley’s brother died when Horsley was 20. When she was 40, her mother presented her with a teddy bear made from her athletic brother’s New York Jets sweater.

“It’s on my bed right now,” Horsley told EndNotes. “It’s nice to have something of his that’s mine.”

If you aren’t the arts-and-crafts type, find someone in your community who does quilting or crafting. Online sites also create memory items for those in grief.

A dead person’s clothing is often tied to memories of events, big and small.

“Maybe he wore a certain pair of shoes to cut the lawn. Or a certain tie when he went to work. Their clothing is so much about who they were,” Horsley explained.

Respect your children’s procrastination. Important grief work is behind it.

Q. We had a friend die suddenly. Her obituary did not state where to send any memorial donations. Is it appropriate to make a check out to the family and ask them to donate it to a charity of their choice in that person’s memory?

A. You have many options that can direct your generosity.

Ken Peterson, funeral director at Washburn-McReavy in Edina, Minn., observes current trends in memorial donations.

People give more to local causes than they have in the past, such as Little Hospice in Edina, rather than a national hospice group or a national cancer charity, Peterson said.

“Also, people donate to causes associated with the deceased – like the Alzheimer’s (Association), or the humane society, if the person liked animals,” Peterson said.

When the family does not give a designation, mourners sometimes ask him at the service where to direct contributions.

“I tell them to make a check out to the family or their own preferred charity in memory of the deceased,” Peterson said.

Clair Ferris, owner of Funeral Alternatives of Washington, agreed with Peterson and suggested a donation to your own favorite charity or a check to the family.

Your choice may be influenced by the ethnic heritage of your friend.

“Many times in the Asian or Latino/Latina communities people give the family money,” Ferris said.

If there is a local charity, or community fundraising effort, such as a new children’s wing at the hospital or a senior center building campaign, consider donating to it.

You can always wait a few weeks and ask the family members what they prefer. The frenzy around planning and hosting a memorial can be exhausting. With time to reflect after the service, the family may have specific wishes about how to memorialize their loved one – suggestions they did not think about in the days immediately after their loved one died.

Catherine Johnston, a health care professional from Olympia, and Rebecca Nappi, Spokesman-Review features writer, welcome your questions about what to do in times of illness, dying, death and grief. Contact them through their EndNotes blog at www.spokesman.com/blogs/endnotes.

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