Clutter Clearing: Purging Papers Associated with Death

Very often when clients and I encounter papers associated with a person who has died during IMG_1628our clutter clearing, there is a quiet, tense moment while I drink in the reality of their loss and they take a breath to settle their feelings. Papers associated with the death of a loved one hold the energy of the person who died and the energy of loss, grief and death. When we address those papers, we are venturing into sacred territory. I tread very lightly and lovingly to acknowledge and honor clients’ feelings and their loss.

When a person is in the process of dying or has died, papers are generated. There are medical papers, legal papers, obituaries, eulogies, funeral service programs and sympathy cards. Those papers, encountered without the support of a loving, caring other can stop even the most motivated person in their clutter clearing tracks and make them run for the remote and a box of chocolates. Why? When you handle those papers in order to make decisions about what to do with them, you stir up the uncomfortable feelings of loss.

Sympathy cards and medical papers that reflect a person’s physical decline to death keep the focus on the death of a person, not the life. With the exception of legal papers and medical records that might be required for legal/financial reasons, I recommend tossing most of those papers, keeping only those items associated with the person’s aliveness, accomplishments, and good memories. I recommend keeping:

    • obituaries and scripts for eulogies that are positive summaries of a person’s life and hold the person’s accomplishments and positive memories in place, and
    • sympathy cards that contain stories about a loved one and appreciation of them. Positive statements hold positive energies. They can help you remember the loved one through the eyes of others. Toss those that say nothing about the person and just have a signature. 

Just recently I tossed sympathy cards Mom got when her husband passed away in 2012 (Mom has Alzheimer’s, so I do the clutter clearing for her these days). Long ago she stopped re-reading them and gaining pleasure from the kindness of those who took the time to share remembrances and let her know they were thinking of her. I suspect that Mom stopped reading those cards as she moved through her grieving process and no longer needed the visual reminders of all those who demonstrated their caring and support at that sad time. She quite naturally shifted from needing reminders of the support of others to holding John’s memory and aliveness in place in the many framed photos she has of him in her apartment.

Rule of Thumb: With the exception of papers needed for legal and financial reasons, only keep papers that hold the best of a person alive in your memory. Toss those that remind you of struggle, death and loss.