Tag Archives: grief

Support Speeds Clearing Out Parents’ Homes

I was recently reminded about how having the assistance of a professional organizer can help

Mom and my step-father, John

adult children face and complete the clearing of a parental residence. I spent 4.5 hours helping a dear friend clear out her old bedroom in the home she grew up in. After a tour of the house to see the reality of the overall project, Carol (name changed to protect the identity of my friend) and I agreed that the best place for us to work together was in her childhood bedroom. She chose that project because it was the part of the house that she most dreaded tackling. I agreed because from our conversation I understood that her bedroom was a place where we were likely to find many things that could stir up strong and perhaps uncomfortable feelings from her past.

This kind of project can keep a person stuck in their clutter clearing process because they intuitively know that they will be taking a mental and emotion trip down memory lane, reviewing their history which is almost always a mixed bag of positive and negative memories that can stir both positive and negative feelings. Carol knew herself so well that she could predict where she might get stuck and flee from a project that had to be done. That type of project is a great place to bring in the support of a professional organizer who has experience working with people in emotionally charged situations.

Clearing out the home of a parent or parents ranks up there as one of the most challenging clutter clearing projects because when you empty a parent’s home, you are taking apart what’s left of their life. It also takes you back into the past and stirs feelings of grief and loss. Even if your relationship was not close with your parent(s), feelings are likely to come up because of their significant role in your life. If your relationship was troubled, disconnected, abusive or non-existent, you could feel sadness about not having had the type of relationship you wanted and deserved. If you had a good relationship and have lots of wonderful memories, you might be sad because you are left with a significant void in your life where once you shared good times, connected deeply, and made precious memories.

I am able to work well with clients who are in Carol’s situation, faced with the daunting, emotional, and overwhelming task of clearing out and closing a parent’s home because:

  • I went through that painful process myself when I cleared out my mom and step-father’s home four years ago. I learned so much about what it takes to get through that process and the realities of that type of mammoth undertaking.
  • I have had LOTS of experiences moving through my own grief (parents’ divorce, my divorce, the death of my mother, healing childhood wounds). In all but one of those situations, it was with the presence of support from a trained professional that I was able to heal and return to build a life of meaning.
  • I have a M.S. in counseling, so I know what works to help who people who are experiencing grief and uncomfortable feelings and move through feelings that could send them fleeing for a safer, more emotionally comfortable place. Most professional organizers without that level of training and experience aren’t comfortable helping people who feel sad, mad, hurt and the host of other feelings that tend to show up when clearing out a parent’s home.
  • I enjoy the opportunity and challenge of being present with people when strong feelings hit. I have both knowledge and experience as a counselor and Certified Organizer Coach® that have taught me that what works in that type of situation is to acknowledge the feelings that have presented and to inquire about the feelings, which offers the person the chance to stay with the feelings, explore what triggered the feelings, and ultimately manage them or release them so forward progress is possible.
  • I have 18+ years experience as a professional organizer doing this kind of work.

How does this work affect me? I feel so grateful for the honor of being allowed to be part of a person’s healing. I leave that type of situation knowing I made a significant difference for the person whether they acknowledge it or not, a difference that has the potential to lighten their emotional load a bit in a VERY complicated and difficult situation. I also know I have been part of helping them getting on with their lives after a significant loss. I feel very good about paying it forward, helping others as I have been helped.

If you find yourself faced with the challenge of clearing out a parent’s home, consider me a resource who can help you step into and move through the emotionally difficult parts of that process. I can be part of that process in any way that works for you. I can visit the home and recommend strategies for how to get the job done. I can do spot clearing with you in areas you tend to avoid as I did with Carol, areas that stir painful feelings or that seem too overwhelming because of the quantity items to be cleared, the messiness or nastiness of the space, and/or your difficulty making decisions. Or, I can help you with the whole project by working with you to break it down into doable bite-sized pieces, working with you hands-on so you can move through the process without getting stuck due to feelings associated with overwhelm, grief, and other strong emotions, and identifying other potential resources for support if needed.

Closing down a parent’s home can be a healing process with the right kind of support. Check out my website, call me at 804-730-4991 or email me at debbie@debbiebowie.com to learn more about how my support can help you clear your parent’s home more quickly and easily. 

Women Get Stuck! Is This You?

Stuck means not moving. All women experience times in their lives when they just can’t seem to

Self-doubt, limiting beliefs, and fear can keep an artist stuck. Taking action is an act of courage.

muster the motivation to take action to do the things they need to do to maintain a manageable life and/or the things they want to do to support mental, physical, emotional and spiritual growth and create a fulfilling life.

Some women get stuck more easily. I work with three categories of women who get stuck.

  1. Women in transition. When you experience a death or loss, like the death of a spouse, parent or child, or a divorce, it is quite common to get stuck in grief, stuck in an old role and paralyzed when you have to rebuild your life following a significant loss. Other transitions include retiring from a job, becoming an empty nester, changing careers.
  2. Women Artists. Writers experience writer’s block when ideas and words will not flow. Artists want to paint, draw, sculpt, etc., but can’t make themselves show up on a regular basis to do their work. Musicians have the best intentions to practice their instruments, but keep choosing other things to do.
  3. Women with ADHD. Women with ADHD can have great difficulty initiating action, particularly action that is perceived to be boring, not fun and not stimulating. They are also prone to rumination, getting stuck spinning in negative thoughts that keep them stuck. Transitions, getting into action and out of action, are difficult.

What these categories of women have in common is that each is probably stuck because they hold negative perspectives about themselves, their abilities and what’s possible for them. Limiting beliefs, fear, and self-criticism block forward motion. Fear keeps them disconnected from awareness of their strengths and gifts that could be used to get unstuck. Most aren’t even aware of how their negative thoughts and fears block action.

Coaching is a process that will get you unstuck. You will partner with a coach for support to generate awareness of what is keeping you stuck, what your strengths, values and needs are, and to strategize ways ways to take action to achieve your goals. The real gift of coaching is the opportunity to plan and take action with accountability. Knowing that your coach believes in you and is supporting forward movement can motivate you to reach for goals that previously seemed out of reach.

If you are stuck, take the first step. Schedule a 30 minute FREE Back on Track coaching session with me. In that session you will test drive coaching to see if it could be a good fit for you to get unstuck and moving in the direction of your goals and dreams.

Women In Transition — A Growth Opportunity

You are trying to get back on your feet after a painful divorce. You are planning to retire and are contemplating how to spend your time in retirement. You are grieving the loss of a spouse or a child. You want to quit an unfulfilling job to pursue work that is more in alignment with your values and passions. You are recovering from an illness and know that you need to make significant life changes in order to live a healthy life. But, how can you get through the challenges of these periods that seem so daunting?

Life transitions are times of change whether by choice or circumstance. Typically they are periods in your life when you feel uncertain, perhaps disconnected from yourself, and sometimes stuck because it’s scary to go from a familiar way of being into something new and unknown. However, transitions are also times of opportunity to create new awareness about what really matters to you, your choices for forward movement, and possible steps to take to get to a better place.

Times of transition are often accompanied by swings of emotion — fear, overwhelm, excitement, depression. It is not uncommon to get hung up in negative emotions, to complain about how long transitions last and how lost you are, to feel frustrated with a lack of mental clarity and, to be stuck.

Many people in transition will isolate themselves from others. They mistakenly believe they have to find their way on their or that getting help from others means they are weak. Going it alone only prolongs this uncomfortable state of being. Also, in isolation you are more likely to become wedded to inaccurate perceptions and limiting beliefs because there is no one to question them or offer alternative ways of thinking and doing.

One way to navigate through transitions more quickly with fewer stuck points is to hire a coach. A coach can help you reconnect with yourself, identify your options for forward movement, help you develop a plan of action, and provide emotional support as you find your way into a new segment of your life journey.

Are you in transition? If so, make this time of transition a productive period of growth and personal development by hiring a coach to walk with you as you find your way through uncertain and unsettled times to a better place. I offer a FREE 30-60 minute Back on Track phone coaching session so you can experience the benefits of being coached. Schedule your frees session now!

Reduce Grief By Creating a Memorabilia Altar

I’ve noticed that some people who have experienced the death of someoneAlter very important keep large quantities of items associated with that person. Everything seems to have great significance. Clients have stated that when they get rid of things associated with their spouse, parent, child, etc., they feel like they are getting rid of that person. Little do they know that by holding onto quantities of things that remind them of that person they are actually anchoring their grief about the loss.

Everything a person own holds their energy if when you look at it you think of that person. An item might have had a very positive energy when the person was alive. For example, a musical instrument they enjoyed playing would likely hold positive energy. However, when the person dies the energy of their items is tinged with sadness.  The musical instrument that held positive energy could evoke sadness because the musician can no longer play the item. Holding onto it anchors sadness.

To facilitate moving through normal grief over the loss of a loved one, I recommend that survivors keep only those items that they like the best, those things that evoke happy feelings. Less is best.

One way to honor a loved one is to create an altar with an arrangement of a few precious items that belonged to the person. You don’t need to hold onto quantities of items associated with a beloved mother to hold her memory in place. Choose a few special items that remind you of the person and arrange them on a surface that you will see in passing as you move through you space. Those items might include a photograph, a special curio, a medal or award they received, anything of theirs that really matters to you or really mattered to them.

My mother died recently. After she died I created an altar to hold a few special things associated with her. It sits atop a small chest of drawers that was in our living room when I was growing up and has been in Mom’s home ever since. I chose to keep that chest for its association with Mom and my life while I was living at home with Mom and Dad.

I gave Mom the little purple silk flower arrangement. She loved flowers and she loved it. The wax ball smells of lilac, her favorite flower and fragrance. I added a few other items for aesthetics — a small painting by my dad, a live plant and a paperweight given to me by a special client who often checked in with me about how Mom was doing during the last few years.

The quantity of items on the altar associated with Mom was less important than the feelings evoked by the items. Just three items (the chest, flower arrangement, and wax ball) hold Mom’s energy and memory in place. When I walk by this little altar my heart remembers Mom and what she loved, and it smiles.

Do the things you have kept that once belonged to a loved one make your heart smile? Are they out and visible where you can see and enjoy the memories? If not, you have inadvertently created pockets of pain that make moving through your grief a much more difficult and slow process. Keep and honor the best. Let go of the rest! 

It’s Normal to Be Unproductive When Grieving

My mother died last week after at least seven years of gradual decline due to20160507_120423-1 strokes, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. Mom and I had always been very close, more like sisters than mother and daughter. Her death created a big void in my life. For the last 4 1/2 years I had been the coordinator of her care, a responsibility that was very heavy both emotionally and physically, and was as consuming as a full time job. When she died I lost that job, and I lost my closest connection with a family member. I felt numb, lost, unfocused and terribly sad.

Normally I am very productive. I value getting things done and making the most of my time. For years I had been running as fast as I could to keep up with home, work, and caregiving responsibilities for Mom and my disabled brother, Mark. When she died everything stopped except for taking steps to clear her apartment and plan her memorial celebration. Even the simplest of tasks too, so much energy.

Of particular concern was the fact that I had no energy to work on my business. Since I’m self-employed as a professional organizer, speaker and coach, I must work to be paid. After Mom’s death my grief flattened me, kept me stuck in slow motion, and unable to muster any interest and enthusiasm for picking up the reins of my business.

Fortunately I know a lot about the grief process and knew that he kind of grief I am describing is normal. Being productive immediately after such a big loss was not even remotely possible and was not a fair expectation. There are times when it is not realistic to expect yourself to jump back into action. This is one of those times.

Rather than beat myself up or worry myself to death about my malaise and its effect on my business, I chose to acknowledge my grief and give myself some breathing room until my energy and motivation return. Although that is not my normal way of operating, and I have twitched a bit about my slower pace, I know that to do anything else would be terribly disrespectful at this time.

Rushing right back into action would delay grieving. The underlying grief would then make it impossible to access my best self, focus and do my best work. By allowing myself to move through my grief at my own pace, I am making it more likely that I will be able to return to my former level of productivity.

Clear Clutter to Manage Grief

My mother is dying. She has been in the process of dying for more than threeIMG_0634 weeks. Her death is inevitable. When Mom will leave is uncertain. As you might imagine, I am swimming through a sea of feelings. My relationship with my mother has been precious. She was my best friend, a constant source of love and support. Her passing will leave a huge hole in my life.

How am I coping? I’m clearing clutter. When my emotions run high, I clear clutter. I am able to care for Mom and make sure she is comfortable and getting good care. However, I am utterly powerless about when she will actually die. There is no distinct deadline to this period of great pain and sadness. That leaves me feeling out of control and powerless.

When I feel out of control, I clear clutter. Clearing clutter is a process I can control. It is concrete and I get tangible results immediately. I am also aware that as I clear clutter, I am shifting energies from negative to positive. In so doing, I increase the probability that I will be able to better manage my feelings of grief and make good decisions as this sad journey comes to its ultimate conclusion.

What am I clearing? I am clearing things from Mom’s room that are no longer of use to her in her current state. Feng shui teaches that the best way to create change is to move things and to live with only those things that are in alignment with who you are in the present moment. Most things are no longer relevant for Mom.

Yes, I have had a twinge of guilt about whether it’s amoral to clear out things before Mom has actually died. I got over that feeling by reminding myself that Mom’s passing could actually be easier for her if she’s not anchored in her current state by the negative energies of physical belongings that no longer serve her.

I am also selfishly clearing because I know if I do the clearing in small increments now her death will be easier to handle emotionally. I won’t be left with an enormous painful clutter clearing project when I’m grieving.

I’ve seen what happens to the homes of adult children when they have cleared out parents’ homes post-death in the midst of their grief. Things that belonged to their loved one hold the energy of the loved one and the energy of the loss. They avoid making decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of because it hurts to do so.

Consequently they take home enormous quantities of things that may or may not be significant to them. They then cram those things into their attics, garages, utility rooms, basements and storage spaces instead of going through them and integrating items of true significance into their homes. When that happens the pain of the loss gets anchored in their space for years instead of the joy that is possible when precious items are integrated with their belongings. They can’t move through their grief because the pain associated with the stuff keeps them stuck.

I’m deliberately making decisions with each car load I take from Mom’s room. I am keeping the items that are most precious to me, saving some items for other family members, and donating everything else to charity except items that are trash.

Lest you be worried that I have completely stripped Mom’s room, do not worry! Her furniture, art work, key photos, stuffed animals, and a few decorative items remain to make the space feel homey and inviting.

Has this clearing helped? Yes. I feel calmer about Mom’s passing. When I visit her room feels calm and comfortable. I feel more in control of my emotions and less frantic. I also feel lighter because I have lightened the load of responsibility for what must be done following her death. And, I have found places in my home for the items I chose to keep. Warm touches of Mom speak to me as I move through my home, reminding me of her and our very special relationship.

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.

Music, Time and Privacy: An Effective Combination for Clearing Emotional Clutter

I just figured out why I’ve come to love the weekly hour and a half trips to and from my mother’s house in Kilmarnock, Virginia. Unconsciously I have used that private time in the car to clear emotional clutter.

I make that drive every weekend to make sure Mom is doing OK living alone since the her husband’s death in January. She has dementia, but is still able to live alone with a little assistance from me. I also want her to have company at least once a week, and I want to be available to help her through her grief. I’ve thought of it as a time to help her, but I too have benefitted from those trips. I play music I love and allow my thoughts to drift. As my thoughts drift, so do my feelings.

Like most people, I repress feelings during busy, focused times when dealing with them would not be appropriate. Most recently I lost my step-father after a very stressful period when I came face to face with the extent of my mother and my stepfather’s dementia. I couldn’t afford to grieve the loss of my step-father or feel the range of feelings that come up when beloved parents are declining mentally because I was the only person who had a good brain. I had medical care to coordinate, my mother to support and help, and eventually a funeral to plan. Did I mention that much of this difficult ordeal occurred during December when I was getting ready for Christmas?

Once the dust settled after my step-father’s death, I began making my weekly trips to visit Mom. I played music on Pandora (internet radio), choosing the type of music that suited my mood. Much to my surprise and relief I found that music that I associate with my parents helped me release old thoughts and feelings associated with my childhood. Country music love songs helped me let go of deep feelings of sadness about my step-father being gone from my mother’s life and come to realize how much I missed him. Most recently I found myself crying tears of gratitude for my dear husband’s support and tears of sadness about Mom’s mental decline.

The combination of music and time alone in the privacy of my car have worked well to help me release so much sadness, more than I even knew I was carrying. I’ve come to look forward to my trips for the opportunity to clear out any accumulated feelings. You might be wondering if all this crying and focus on losses is really a good thing. I found myself questioning whether I am being self-indulgent, enjoying the pain, a behavior that could keep me stuck in pain.

When I asked myself what was really going on, I came to the conclusion that I had inadvertently stumbled onto an effective way to release accumulated emotional clutter. How do I know that what I’ve been doing really is a good thing? After my weekly releases I feel better, lighter and open to receive good things like guidance, inspiration, excitement, and clarity about my purpose. Clearing old emotional clutter has made more room for joy! What a gift!

If you are normal, and tend to push uncomfortable feelings away, consider allowing those feelings to come up and out when you are in a safe place, either alone or with a safe person. Know that you will be clearing emotional clutter with each tear that flows. It’s often the emotional clutter that is the biggest obstacle to successful clutter clearing.

© 2012 Clutter Clearing Community | Debbie Bowie

“Author, Organizing Expert and Feng Shui Practitioner Debbie Bowie, is a leading authority on clutter clearing to attract more of what you want in your life. If you’re ready to finally clear the clutter from your life and move your life forward, get your FREE TIP SHEET, “Feng Shui Tips for Instant Success” at http://www.clutterclearingcommunity.com.

Grief Can Be a Physical Block

“He’s very nervous about you coming,” Gail said as we were working in her house clearing clutter. She was

Your house is an extension of yourself. It tells the truth about what’s going on in your life. If for awhile your life is a bit out of control because of stressors like illness, deaths of friends and family members, divorce, depression, having children or moving, the space often reflects the stress.

In this case I had been warned that the house had gotten pretty backed up with stuff. When I entered the home office, it really looked like a storeroom, boxes piled at least 5’ high in the center of the room, I asked my new client, “What’s in these boxes?” I was surprised that he knew exactly what was in those boxes. “They are things that belonged to my mother and sister.” With a little probing I learned that those women had died seven and four years ago. The boxes had taken up residence in that room following their deaths.

You may be amazed that nothing had been done with those boxes for so many years. Why wouldn’t he have felt compelled to dismantle the box pile that was blocking access to his desk, bookshelf and keyboard? And, this man is a musician for whom music is a passion! What would stop him dead in his tracks? Grief.

As we worked and talked I learned that this man’s relationship with both his mother and sister had been problematic, painful, even scary at times. His family was affected by the insanity of alcoholism, a disease that infects every family member. So, what’s that got to do with the items in those boxes? Items owned by a person hold that person’s energy. A deceased person may be physically gone, but their belongings hold their energy. It is quite common to be assaulted by old memories when you encounter things associated with a particular person. Intuitively my client knew that if he opened those boxes he was going back in time. He was probably not conscious that his avoidance of opening those boxes was fueled by a reluctance to face old memories, old sadness and loss. But, the pain of those memories held in place by the objects kept him stuck for years.

What objects in your space hold sadness in place, blocking you from moving forward with your life? Check out those areas that you have been neglecting. Is there an emotional block keeping you stuck? Getting conscious of a painful association is the first step. Bring it to consciousness so you can let it go and move on.

© 2012 Clutter Clearing Community | Debbie Bowie

“Author, Organizing Expert and Feng Shui Practitioner, Debbie Bowie, is a leading authority on clutter clearing to attract more of what you want in life. If you’re ready to clear clutter and move your life forward, get your FREE TIP SHEET, “Feng Shui Tips for Instant Success” at http://www.clutterclearingcommunity.com.