Cleaning out a deceased loved one’s closet

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020 00:00 |
Bob Collomore. Photo/Courtesy

Regardless of how well you prepare, disposing off a dead loved one’s personal effects such as jewellery, clothes, wallet that hold high sentimental value can be a painful process

Ann Nyathira

“While Kenyans have relatively moved on seven months after the death of former Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore, his wife still cherishes the happy moments they spent together. 

Taking to Instagram a few weeks ago, the seemingly heartbroken Wambui Kamiru Collimore posted a series of black and white pictures detailing just how she is struggling with accepting the permanence of the loss. 

She still keeps all her husbands belongings untouched. One of the pictures she posted shows a clothes hanger, probably where she used to place her husband’s clothes for the day perched on a closed closet door.

Another photo shows piles of Bob’s clothes carefully folded and arranged in shelves while others remain hanged.

Another photo depicting the emptiness of what was fondly shared is her bed with one end (probably Collimore’s) still spread out, an empty couch and an empty chair on one end of the dinner table, which are a clear and painful symbol of her husband’s absence. 

Never-ending barrier

Like Wambui, nothing prepares you for the emotional force of the things a loved one leaves behind when they die.

The painful task of sifting through and parting with their stuff always lies in wait. Which clothes to keep? Which work files to discard?

What to do with the no longer needed wallet, passport, watch, phone? And when do you begin to tackle the possessions after a loved one’s death? 

When her husband of seven years suddenly died four years ago,  Pascaline Karambu’s heart  was broken into tiny pieces. Even with her two children around, the house felt empty.

Suddenly, her husband’s shoe worn the previous day and left at the doorway became sacred, the clothes in his closet with the familiar scent became comforting and the empty cold bed becoming something I wanted to avoid” she recalls.

For Karambu, the days that followed after her husband’s death were foggy leaving her deranged.

His memories morphed into a dense and never-ending barrier between her and the world she once knew.

“You know it is after the burial and when everyone has left that you realise how empty the house is.

We had lived in that same house for seven years and that’s where most of our memories live,” says Karambu.

She remembers getting into a fight with her sisters who suggested she donates them. She could not fathom the idea of giving away the only things that made her feel close to her late husband. 

Although she has made slight changes to their home, it still feels like her husband is  still present, there is still a part of her that wants to leave the house the way it was when he was still alive, a perfect time capsule. 

Karambu has been told keeping her husband’s belongings is a bad omen, but she see double standards in that assuption.

“Is it not the same as choosing to keep your spouses property like the farm and the rest?

I will hold on to his things for as long as I can and even if I remarry I will still keep some of his belongings for my children and I,” adds Karambu.

No right or wrong way

Gladys Nyachieo, a sociologist says coping with death is incredibly personal, and there’s no right or wrong way to go about it.

There is no right or wrong time to sort your late spouses’ belongings; it is a grieving process that individuals handle differently.

“While others may choose to hold  on to the possessions alone for years, others feel the sense of accomplishment organising items.

Friends and family members will have their opinion of what is right or wrong when it comes to “cleaning out your closet”, but the true right or wrong is in the eyes and the heart of the mourning spouse,” explains Nyachieo.

Dr Nyachieo notes that disposing the stuff could also bring feelings of guilt. ‘Wouldn’t dispensing with those items be like, well, throwing your loved one away? What kind of loving spouse would do that?

“It’s easy to feel heartless when getting rid of belongings that were so much a part of a loved one’s life. But it is an important part of dealing with death,” says Nyachieo.

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