Linda Lewis Griffith

Tips for sorting through a deceased loved one's items

Since my father’s death in March, my family and I have been engaged in the difficult task of sorting through and disposing of his personal belongings.

Some of the items have historical or emotional significance, such as his musical instruments and family photos. They’re things we’ll keep, treasure and fondly associate with Dad.

Other things may have been important to him but are of little value to us. Those articles have been given away, donated to charity, recycled or, as a very last resort, thrown out.

Then there is The Pile. It consists of a few agonizingly personal items that my siblings and I don’t want to keep but are too emotionally laden to comfortably toss out.

Fortunately, The Pile is relatively small. But the amount of angst it has created far outweighs everything else.

Most items in The Pile are associated with my older brother, who passed away from leukemia when we were young. Only my older sister and I knew him, and his memories evoke a sad and difficult time in our lives.

Getting rid of those mementos somehow feels disloyal, as though he’s being wiped from the family slate.

Of course, that can never happen. Sis and I will forever have our brother in our hearts and past. We have pictures of us all together and newspaper clippings about his illness and death. Still, those toys keep us connected. It’s hard to let them go.

We’re certainly not alone in this dilemma. Each family grapples with the question, “What do I keep after a loved one is gone?”

People respond in different ways. One group I know moved all the deceased’s belongings into their home. Another brought in a huge dumpster and threw everything away.

There’s no right or wrong answer. My siblings and I are doing what feels right for us. Still, there are tears and tough decisions in the process because everything is achingly final.


Keep items with pleasant memories. You deserve a serene environment. Dispose of anything that causes emotional angst.

Use, display or enjoy personal belongings. Artifacts don’t belong in boxes in the attic. Put them to good use on a daily basis.

Consider photographing or videotaping items before disposing of them. This may facilitate the separation process and help you move forward in your cleaning.

Repurpose where you can. When my mother died, I made a quilt out of some of her clothes. It was a lovely, restorative activity.

Understand that you don’t have to keep everything. Your love for the deceased isn’t measured by the clutter in your living room and garage. Separate your memories from the things.

Go at your own pace. There’s no need to rush the cleaning process. Do it as you are ready.

Honor the living. Your loved one is gone. But you are still living. Make your home perfect for you today.