In the Raw Grief Edition – What no one told me about cleaning out and packing up

I’d been there since Saturday and it was now the following Thursday. My sister and her husband left Monday to return to their jobs. My husband and children left Tuesday – jobs and virtual school couldn’t wait any longer.

The day before, Wednesday, it was just her and me as she got to see Jesus face to face. Then the immediate busyness of calls, pronouncements, and people stopping to give their sympathies.

PSA: never use the word condolences. Please. It’s cold and unfeeling.

If you want to convey your deep sadness for someone’s loss, don’t force words. Say something like “I’m so sorry.” or “I can’t imagine your loss.” or something that lets words fail because they will. The person simply needs to know that you are there and with them – grieving and holding them in prayer.

Today, though, things were quiet. I was faced with a choice. Do I deal with all of her things now while I’m here in PA or do I make the 10+ hr trip later? The thought of driving that long to simply go through Mom’s things made the choice simple. Get it done now.

For those of you who may not know, this house was the parsonage of the church they led after they had significantly downsized in recent years. The looming task wasn’t massive, but I was running on emotional fumes.

So with my sister’s help over FaceTime, I managed to go through each kitchen cupboard and drawer as well as a storage room in their basement.

Each time I felt like I just couldn’t go any further, God supplied energy and renewed my heart to keep going. There is no denying the power of prayer.

Cleaning & packing gives your hands something to do as your mind processes.

As I stacked each box, hoping it would all fit in my mini van, my mind drifted. These items are the sum of a life? How is that possible? Baskets, plates, Pyrex, cloth napkins, Chinese checkers… I found treasured items that even in my fog, I knew would remind me of her.

What will my children find when they go through all my things? What will they talk about? What memories will they share and laugh? What will make them roll their eyes? More than anything, I hoped and prayed they would love Jesus more as a result of seeing His grace in my life.

The next day, I tackled her craft room. It was literally wall-to-wall fabric and craft supplies. Again over FaceTime, my sister and I talked and reminisced as I picked up each item and either kept, tossed or gave it away.

Not everything is sacred or needs to be saved.

It was a challenge to think through each item I touched.

  • Is there someone who would treasure this?
  • (If that person is me) Do I really need this?
  • Why is it special?
  • What memory is attached to it?

When in doubt, I snapped a picture and texted it to whomever I thought might like it. It slowed things a bit, but dealing with it right then meant I didn’t have to figure it out later.

The task isn’t as important as caring for your body.

Hours would go by and I’d realize it was 2pm and I hadn’t eaten anything. Pressing on and continuing seemed like a good idea at the time, but in reality, it only contributed to brain fog and slowed me down. So I learned to give proper value to breaks every so often – just a few minutes to stretch and then return to the task. Any longer and the task seemed insurmountable.

It will feel like you will never get done.

I remember getting done with one cupboard, thinking I had finally finished. Only to find another one. It felt discouraging. But I really did finish.

Friday night, I loaded all of those boxes into my van. With the backseat flush with the floor, the entire van was completely full. I found nooks and crannies for everything, including a space for her African Violets to travel safely.

After making Dad promise to communicate as he processed his grief, I pulled up the Maps app Saturday morning and drove out. Lisa Samson‘s The Sky Beneath My Feet was the perfect audiobook for the trip.


That audiobook helped to transition as I drove the endless miles. I knew the wall-to-wall stuff behind me would have to be faced and parceled out to whomever, but I could immerse myself in the Lisa’s humor and precious truth woven throughout the story: God really will make all things right and regardless of whether we see it or not, He is in control.

And I can rest in that.

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