Australian-born Peter Walsh, who’s made it in LA with blessings from Oprah, has written the ideal gem for those at that difficult time of dismantling their parents’ home.
Even though Let It Go, like many of Walsh’s books, is about decluttering generally, it shows what a cleansing experience this can be – not just at the practical but also at the spiritual level. And seeing it that way is helpful in reframing the sad task of retrenching the family home without feeling possessive or anxious about the items you find.
In essence Peter says to ask: is the item malignant? You know what to do with that one. But is it a treasure? Or even just worthy? Items in both of those last two categories are all well and good – but not necessarily something you should take back to your place.
Marie Kondo’s intense little book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing brings extraordinary passion and a Japanese sensibility to the same subject.
Both books capture the same zeitgeist as Margareta Magnusson’s The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. The Swedish have the word dostadning, which combines ‘death’ and ‘cleaning’ to describe the art of paring down all your possessions before you die, rather than leaving this task for others to do afterwards. Like Peter and Marie, Margareta argues this is so profoundly rewarding that we should all do it while we’re still well and truly alive and see it as a continuous process.
This is a great project because everyone who participates is a winner.
When your reader connects with something you’ve said, something powerful is shared.
But the best thing is, even if no-one else ever sees it, when we write about our grief, it’s easier to understand.
When we write our griefs out, we’re forced to frame them, since every idea expressed in writing has a beginning, a middle and an end. Those writings can be really big or they can be really small. Think: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”, by Ernest Hemingway.
Six words only, but a thousand volts.
And once we can shape the words then we can decide whether to hold them or let them go. And once the ‘ifs’ of letting go are decided, then we can decide on the ‘when’.
My colleague and neighbour Andrew Casey was buried today, after a beautiful Jewish funeral service. His brother John observed that he still had his mop of rich brown hair – but lamented that he wished Andrew had lived long enough to go grey.
Simple wisdoms flowed from the Old Testament, nestled in among the traditional chants and lamentations of the funeral service, the eulogies and readings, such as the beautiful poem of Rabbi Alvin Fine that includes the haunting truth: “From defeat to defeat to defeat – until looking backward or ahead, we see that victory lies not at some high place along the way, but in having made the journey, stage by stage, a sacred pilgrimage.”
Later, Andrew’s friends and family gathered around to share stories: of Andrew the journalist with a strong voice, the champion of the union movement and workers rights, the child of Holocaust survivors, the man who knew intimately the refugee immigrant experience.
To me he was an old friend who recently moved into my neighbourhood, rat-a-tat-tatting on the window as he passed me in the coffeeshop or sharing gelato as we argued at the local ice-creamery. He died suddenly last week. Goodbye Andrew.
The question came up when a dear friend died recently: “Did I know her well enough to go to the funeral service?” If you can’t make it because of other commitments that can’t be changed, don’t worry and don’t overthink it but my personal view is that if you’d like to go and you can, you should.
Your connection to the dead might have been a little one. You might hesitate because you were once very close and over the years you lost touch. Or you might regret having let an opportunity to socialise with the person slip by, thinking you’d see them at the next meeting or party. Don’t be put off by that. After all, no-one will be offended that you claimed a place in a pew. In fact, the opposite.
Going to a funeral service is not about being seen but while a funeral service is about the dead, it is also about the living.
Close family and friends will be touched that you were there and they’ll be pleased that people had to squeeze in and stand at the back to acknowledge the person who they so loved.
Some who are grieving intensely will see your presence as a great comfort, since it will show something that is a wonderful paradox: those who knew the person intimately are expected to be sad and mourn; they’re expected to be there. But if someone who has no obligations in that way shows that they care enough to take time out of their busy lives, this will be seen for what it is, an act of generosity: you could be bothered to iron a dress, fight the traffic and struggle to get a parking place to be there for that person.
And you will have made a connection with the person who has died, even though they are gone.
When I opened Good Grief! this year I quoted a reflection by L. R. Knost which touched debate both online and off. Some found the suggestion of mending too painful. To these good folk the quote felt glib.
We want to hold close the memory of someone who’s died: it’s a generous feeling about the dead person and it’s about wishing they had more life, more opportunities, more love to both give and receive, more opportunities to walk in fields of wildflowers.
So suggesting moving on and renewal feels insensitive to some: are the mourned to be tossed out, dismissed, replaced? And it overlooks the fact that for that dead person, life will never come back.
Too often people feeling this way about those they grieve are shut down, told to get over it, told to move on. So they feel not only sad but judged for their sadness.
If people want to talk about their grief – from the inside – Good Grief! says ‘Go for it!’ Keep sharing those thoughts, no matter how unacceptable they might be in other places. Good Grief! believes that using words will help you with your grief, help you find ways to manage it that suit you and to a timetable that works for you.
Julian, my brother. Remembering you today, a big inspiration for Good Grief!
Goofy, clever, funny, wise, reflective, kind, sensitive, sinner, saint and sufferer – and always with the biggest most generous heart.
Killed in a motorcycle accident on January 21, 2012 but never to be forgotten. (Love you!)
Hello everyone and welcome to Good Grief! 2018.
After a beautiful holiday, starting with family – including two lively little grandsons – on the NSW south coast and then a cycle ride through New Zealand’s south island I’m back and excited about all the conversations and ideas that I’ll be sharing through Good Grief this year.
I’ll kick off with this beautiful piece, which reminds us about hope and how it helps us to get through, by L. R. Knost. It’s another ‘sharing’ from a friend of this page, Margie D.
Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.
All things break. And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.