Now that the funeral is over, relatives and friends have left, the thank you notes have been sent, and the flowers have wilted, your house may be looking almost normal again, except of course, for the obvious absence of your spouse. Memories of them are everywhere; their clothing, personal possessions, family pictures, and other memorabilia. If you’re able to look it over, you’ll probably find things you never knew were there, or things you’d long since forgotten about; military records, awards, letters, children’s drawings, cards, and things you had no idea your spouse had treasured.
Although you may want to dispose of many things right away, don’t move too quickly, or you may regret it later. You will find that much that has sentimental value, if you can bring yourself to look at it. At the same time, don’t leave it all in exactly the same place as it was when your spouse passed away. That might make grieving even harder.
First of all, remember that you’re not on a time schedule, and no one else can tell you when you should be ready to deal with your late spouse’s possessions. When you feel ready, begin by sorting through all the things that are obviously useless and dispose of them, or donate them to an appropriate charity, eg; clothing to the homeless. While you are sorting, you’ll be find things that evoke fond memories for you. Separate those things that have sentimental value from the rest, to look at later. Waves of grief may sweep over you as you find things from happier times in the past. It’s ok to stop and allow yourself to cry, or to take a break and walk, sit outside, have a cup of tea, take a relaxing bath, or just sit and think. When you’re ready to resume the project, you will.
As time goes on and you slowly look through the sentimental things, you might want to have a balance in your home between things from the present and those from the past. Put up your favorite picture of your late spouse, to honor them and that portion of your life. Other photos could be made into a collage, which can then be framed and serve as a permanent momento of your life together. If your late spouse had a military funeral, the flag that was carefully folded into a triangle and given to you can be placed into a special frame designed for that purpose. You can find them at larger craft shops. Military service is a special achievement, and also deserves a place of honor. You may want to display diplomas and other records of special achievements as well.
Personal momentos, like love notes and letters, should be preserved in a more private way. A nice idea is to decorate a box with attractive fabric, ribbon, sequins, or paper in a way that feels right to you, and represents how you felt about your spouse. This is called a Memory Box. You can also paint a wooden box, and then decorate it, or start with a ready-made Memory Box which can be purchased in arts and crafts stores, or online. Of course, making it yourself is a much more personal process. Then put the love notes and cards in there, close it, perhaps tie it with ribbon like a gift, and put it away in a special place. You can take it out at a later time and read through the contents, as part of processing your grief. If you give yourself a few months to a year before doing so, you might look at them with a different perspective. Meanwhile, they will be safe and sound.
As you go through your memorabilia, you may find things that could have special value to one or more of your children. These things are usually very appreciated when given as gifts, and don’t cost a thing. In this way, you can also pass on memories of your spouse to the next generation as well. If you have grandchildren, they ought to have something by which to remember the grandparent they have lost. If they didn’t know them very well, memories could fade in time and the younger ones might otherwise forget their grandparent. Children like a sense of belonging to a family that has a history, and sharing in the stories from past generations.
If you find records of your late spouse’s parents or grandparents, including dates and places of birth, dates and places of death, ethnic origin, and information about their lives, you may want to think about creating a geneogram; that is, a diagram of the of the geneology of the family starting with your late spouse’s name and your own (including the maiden name) and then listing the grandparents, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers, cousins, and their children. Include everyone’s spouse if you have the information. Do this for both sides of the family, that is, yours and your late spouse’s. Sometimes geneology forms can be purchased in a gift or craft shop, or you can find models of how to do them online.
Here are some examples; www.familytreetemplates.net, and www.pinterest.com/explore/family-tree-templates. If you need help filling in some of the blanks, websites like Ancestry.com might be helpful. But by far the most accurate information for a geneogram, also known as a family tree, is obtained by asking the oldest members of the family directly. Older people tend to remember their youth better than they remember the present. What you can’t get from an older relative directly, you may find in public records, much of which is now online.
Draw it yourself, or get a pre-printed one and fill in the blanks. The genogram can be decorated with a family seal, for example, or scroll-type designs in the corners that make it look official. You may want to find attractive stencils to use as a pattern, and color them in with gold or silver markers. This gives a dignified look to the geneogram. When finished, it’s something that will preserve family records for years to come. As time goes on, the younger ones often don’t remember all this information, but when they look at it, they will see their place in the family, and their relationships to relatives, and it will evoke fond memories and a sense of belonging. It’s a wonderful gift for future generations to cherish.
Often, a geneogram that one thoughtful person took the time to do, turns out to be the ONLY record of information about the older generations that have passed on. It’s all in one place, and the family will treasure it. You may be able to make copies and give them to family members as gifts. A good print shop can usually do this for you.
Some people prefer to organize their memorabilia and photos by scrapbooking. Lovely scrapbook covers and designs are available in craft and hobby stores, as well as supplies to put together your scrapbook. You might like to organize your photos in chronological order, or randomly, in an artistic fashion. There are websites that offer scrapbook supplies and advice, and groups that get together to share scrapbook ideas, and do it together. These groups are sometimes listed in the community section of your local newspaper.
Another way to organize memorabilia such as family photos, videos, or vacation pictures that have been saved on a computer is by backing them up to a DVD. If you are not computer-savvy, there are companies that will do it for you, and they advertise in their local communities. And by the way, many of these companies will also take large numbers of photos and save them to DVDs for you, for surprisingly reasonable fees.
Live in the present, but honor the past. Make sure that your loved ones are not forgotten, and that you can relive fond memories of them whenever you choose. The process of sorting and organizing memorabilia itself can be a helpful way to process grief, and once the projects are done, you’ll find that you’re much more able to let go of the past and accept life as it now is, having preserved your memories securely. There is something cathartic in the process of working with memorabilia. It can help you move on to the next phase of your life, knowing that what went before will never be lost.