The Things of Navigating Grief

The Things of Grief

Pondering Spring Cleaning After Loss

It’s two years since my husband passed away and I still have his home office in a state of organized clutter.  Apparently, I have no reason to hurry through this task! I haven’t turned on his computer; I hate to think of how long that update would take. But I do go in there from time to time. I do move a few things around. Add some. Look for some. Take some away. He was a piler of papers and his desk still reflects that. I ran the house but his desk and office was his alone. I’m sure that has something to do with my lack of touching things.

I have months that I open the office door to peek in as walk by. I have months I keep it closed. I did moved his wingback chair to the Discover • Create • Share Center to bring his presence into the Navigating Grief   lending library. After all, he was a professor! That chair has its owns stories. The bedroom closet was cleaned long ago as I lost weight and replaced my wardrobe. For me, I didn’t like the daily reminder. Maybe you are more comforted by the clothes. Some of his Oxford shirts were made into quilt pillow for family holiday gifts. Some clothes have been moved into another closet. Some were donated.

The clearing of stuff is a process as much as grief is – a few steps at a time. But like grief, sometimes we must go all in and other days we can take tiny steps.

Gone, and Gone

The first thing I rid the house of after Dave died was the growing medical stuff. I had boxes of sterile gauze pads, bed liners, gloves, and more. We had bought gadgets to assist, support and make it all easier. As Dave became more ill, the supplies kept growing in seeming desperation to fix it all. As an avid recycler not only did I not want this around but I knew someone else could use the materials and things.

I was right. The Thurston County  Medical Equipment Bankis available free to anyone need to borrow or donate medical items. Clean, unopened consumable supplies are also collected and being distributed to organizations such as the new Olympia Amahora House – hospice without borders.

I also took all the medications (proper disposal is not in the trash or down the drain) and felt a need to get the pain killers out of the house – which can’t go back to medical facilities around here. It was not that I thought I’d take them, but I didn’t want the option or temptation. Safe and proper disposal was one of my run-around, do-something trying-to-be-productive-and-right early grief moments! I just wanted to clear the house of all the illness.  Yet, it was all we had known for such a long time, so even this created its own emptiness.


Keeping connected and honoring our loved ones long after loss is significant in the healing journey. I was very fortunate to be able to establish a lasting tribute to and for my husband Dave while he was alive. Shortly after going on hospice service and thus forced retirement from The Evergreen State College, I was able to convince him to put our long held plan for a scholarship fund in place. While the rest of us honor him and his teaching, he actually honored the memory of his mother since she was adamant about his educational pursuits. With matching funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation The David L Hitchens in Honor of Frances Marie Rasmussen Scholarship at TESC is now endowed. What was and is so healing is that we continue to grow the fund, he continues to teach, so to speak, and we were able to let his former students offer support and say goodbye while he was alive. Dave learned just how much he was loved and how his life mattered for generations of people.

Our family had an ideal situation for Dave’s legacy. We already had planned there would someday be a scholarship. He had months of foresight on his declining health. We had tremendous support and resources from family, friends, students and the TESC Foundation. We even had some amazing luck in receiving matching funds!

And it Continues

This month, one of Dave’s musician friends was digging through his accumulate memorabilia and came across an old tape. He asked me to transfer it for him onto DVD. It  is the 25th Anniversary concert of Snake Oil. Music and this band and all the people associated with it is a large component of Dave’s life and even death story. Snake Oil came to play at the major fundraiser for Dave’s scholarship in 2011.

It took me a couple of weeks to get to the project. As I dated the title slide for the DVD I noted  the concert was recorded February 15, 1997. Dave died February 15, 2012.

Since I had all my transfer equipment  and DVD making tools out, I decided to finally make some additional copies of the Family Album DVD shown at the memorial. These had been requested long ago! Of course, I watched and cried. And cried. And I looked a the title slide. March 25, 2012.  Exactly 2 years before. I was working on this day of March 25, 2014.

As long as I remain in this house the layers of things will pop up. And when I move, eventually, the memories and my heart will remain filled with the stories. The stuff ultimately is really not that important. Getting to what and when and how to do with it all still has its angst, bittersweet, and delicious ambiguity.

I am not alone in need. I still have my own rooms to clean out requiring a similar process!

Coming Up

Navigating Grief hosts educational workshops. Join us April 12 , 2014 for The Things of Grief: Spring Cleaning After Loss with Professional Organizer Elain Carroll, Habitat for Your Sanity and a Showcase of local artisans afterwards. Discover-Create-Share Center in Olympia.

Although this article is locally resourced,  your community is likely to have similar programs. Check your city or county waste and disposal programs, senior services agencies and arts organizations.


4 replies
  1. Melanie Saliba
    Melanie Saliba says:

    Thanks for sharing your story of how you dealt with your husband’s possessions, Joan! This article is a great reminder that we don’t have to go through all our loved-ones things at once; it can be a process that brings with it its own healing powers.

  2. Gary Roe
    Gary Roe says:

    Hi Joan. Thank you for the incredible work you are doing. Thanks for this article, especially the Legacy section. I haven’t thought about this aspect near enough – ways to honor our loved ones now and far into the future. I appreciate your insights!

    • Joan H
      Joan H says:

      Thank you Gary. I’m glad I can provide you new way to look at getting through grief and loss in a positive, lasting manner. Best to you. ~Joan


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