My mother died on May 9, 2020 of Covid. Although she lived on the other side of the country, we were close, speaking several times a week. She was my spiritual mentor, and constant supporter. I was not able to travel home to visit her grave or take care of her things until over a year later. It was not easy to get rid of mom’s stuff.
This week marked an important milestone, when I had to dispose of her jewelry. After my wife and daughters picked what they wanted, there was a lot left. Mom loved to dress well, and loved her jewlery. After we are gone, most of the things we leave behind have no owner, and no purpose. The thought made me sad. I had no attachment to these things of hers. I felt bad getting rid of them, but keeping all this stuff didn’t seem like the right thing to do either. Three Mussar practices helped me get rid of moms stuff.
Mussar Practice 1: Honor
The Ten Commandments teaches that we should Honor our parents. But it does not say that we need to Honor their things. As important as these things were to my mom, I don’t need to keep them just because they liked them. At the same time, I would not be honoring her memory to just throw them away, or to have them cluttering my house. In fact, it would be giving her too much Honor to keep something I do not like.
Mussar Practice 2 Gratitude
Decluttering expert Marie Kondo teaches that when something does not spark joy for us, we should thank it for its service, and give it away. And in that sense, I am immensely grateful to my moms jewelry for giving her so much joy over the years. That was her joy, and not mine. The best way I could honor her memory is to find someone else who would wear and love her things. I lovingly packed her jewelry back into its box, put my hands on top of it, and thanked it for all the joy it brought her.
Mussar Practice 3: Generosity
Alan Morinis describes generosity as “a movement of the soul that erupts when you are pierced by the recognition of your direct connection to another soul.” When donating moms jewelry collection, I tried to do so wholeheartedly, imagining someone finding a necklace and bracelet that they absolutely loved. While I will never meet this person, we will still be connected.
Nothing can replace the people we’ve lost. Judaism provides a good structure for grief, but as far as I know there are no direct teachings on what to do with your parents stuff.
I hope these three Mussar practices are helpful to you in your own grief journey.
How did you approach this issue? Let me know below. I answer every comment.