Holding on and Letting Go

I’ve found since my husband, Kramer, passed away in June that I’ve started a process of holding on and letting go.  As much as I’d like to cling to everything he ever had a part of, the house, his tools, his vehicle, his ideas, I can’t.  I can’t let myself go there…I can’t let myself do that.  It’s not healthy for me mentally and I don’t want to end up trapped in a mausoleum of Kramer.

When Kelli and I were writing our quilt book, Country Girl Modern, we would spend MANY days sewing together.  She would fire up the computer, turn on Netflix and we would watch episodes of “Hoaders”.  As I watched I noticed so many people “got stuck” after the loss of a loved one.  A daughter would succumb after the death of a mother or a wife after the loss of a husband.  I watched that show thinking “oh wouldn’t that loved one be upset if they saw how their passing affected the one still here”….I thought “that poor person lost themselves”… I always thought oh no, I would never do that, but then I lost Kramer and found out what a struggle it is to not mentally stay in the moment when they were still with you.

I’m doing good..no threat that I’ll become a hoarder (except for the sewing room and that’s not related to Kramer) but I quickly saw that a person without strong courage and support could go to place where they are trapped by things.  As I throw, donate and sort, I keep reminding myself…”Would Kramer be happy with this choice?” or “Aside from being a bandaid to try to heal my grieving heart, is this really something I need?”  It’s really a long series of holding on, and letting go.

Recently Karl mentioned needing a little more space.  His bedroom here at the house is okay but it’s small.  It has a queen bed in it, but would really be better as a kids’ bedroom with a single bed.  Finding space for clothes and stuff was hard for a grown adult man so he started to make a plan to store his clothes in the basement in his “man cave”.  I asked him how he felt if I cleaned out Kramer’s clothes and he kept his in the basement where Kramer used to keep his.  Karl was super quick to stop me and do the “are you sure you’re ready” thing with me.  I was and a couple days later, I did it.

I notified the kids…I told them I was boxing Kramer’s clothes up for now.  If anyone wanted anything, now was the time to get it.  I’d leave it in the basement boxed and in a couple months after everyone had a chance to look, I’d be passing it on the the thrift store.

As I sorted I tried to remind myself that it was okay to keep a couple things…certainly not everything.  I also reminded myself I wanted to keep something.  So..I did.  I kept this stained up old T-shirt and I wear it to bed from time to time.

I have such good memories of this shirt.  I remember the day we bought it.  We were on a long weekend meandering around to antique shops and such.  We stopped in Spring Grove Minnesota and bought it.  He wore it for a long time.  I remember going with him, he’d wear the shirt and other guys would come up to him, read his shirt and laugh.  Conversations would start up and before long he was chatting with someone he didn’t know at all about what nationality they were.  He loved chatting and visiting.  He would always end up teasing me about being Swedish and I loved when he teased me.

Being the shirt is stained, I’m surprised he didn’t start wearing it as a work shirt…Maybe he didn’t because the shirt meant something to him too.

So…I kept it…and occasionally I sleep in it.  Not all the time…sometimes.

I also kept a T-shirt that he had that said, “Sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to come”.  That T-shirt has a Kelli story to it.  We were driving and Kelli was with us, going to the family picnic I think, and Kelli said that she saw a shirt that said, “Sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to come”.  Kramer laughed and said, “That’s so funny…if I ever see two shirts of that, I’m buying them both.”  Well Kelli, as a joke, bought him two of the same shirts.  In the early part of his cancer treatments, he wore that shirt often to radiation appointments.  I always thought it was so appropriate to wear to radiation treatments.

I also kept his VERY beat up old first issue fireman’s coat.  It was his favorite then became his chore coat to the farm.  Then I patched it.  I put it in the pickup and it’s part of my winter survival stuff.

I ended up wearing it the night we went for Pizza at Luna Valley Farm.  It was chillier than I expected.  It’s old and ratty but perfectly comfortable…and “feels” very Kramer.  I love wearing it as it’s oversized and reminds me of how we fit together for a hug…him bigger, me smaller.

Other things I’ve held onto…His fireman hat.  The fire department presented it to me at Kramer’s graveside.  This is in my bedroom..on his side of the bed.

His pliers…

…and that’s about all I’ve kept beside pictures.  Sure, his tools are here and I didn’t sell the suburban, but those are all practical use things.  Karl and Craig have been here many times working and putzing in the garage work area.  I’m not holding onto that for memories.  I’m holding onto that for practicality.

I think I did good.  The few things I’ve kept all have meaning.  All are a good representation of Kramer.
-hard worker

I do have to give a little bit of credit for my attitude in tackling all of this to author Dana White.

How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind

Decluttering at the speed of Life

Her books talk about house organization and management and a section talks specifically about how to deal with sentimental items.  I read both of these books a couple years ago and LOVE them.  One of the points she makes is that if something is really special and holds a special place in your heart, then it should be treated so.

That’s why I rearranged things in my bedroom to give Kramer’s fire helmet a prominent spot.  That’s why Kramer’s old coat is tucked into the truck to serve an emergency purpose…just like his plier is in the drawer where I know where it is where I can get to it and use it…just like I’m wearing a couple of his T-shirts for jammers.  All of the items are special and I’ve thought through where they should be…how I can save a memory but not hold onto clutter.

If you’re dealing with a loss I hope you to can find some special things to hold onto that remind you of your loved one, but I also hope that you can let go of the things that weren’t so special…the things that don’t bring to mind a special a memory as after all, those things are well…just things.  It’s important that as a widow we work to not to get stuck.  I can see how it would be so easy to simply be stuck.  I’ve seen that by doing this for myself that I am actually holding onto the precious parts of Kramer and letting go the material things as each thing I kept has a specific memory or represents one of his characteristics that I loved.  Without the clutter of the other “stuff”, I can more easily be reminded to the man/husband/dad/volunteer that he truly was.

Hugs to all you who are out there doing this too.  Trust me, I know it’s hard.

22 thoughts on “Holding on and Letting Go”

  1. Judith Fairchild

    You’re doing great I dealing with Kramer’s left behind stuff. It’s hard not to get stuck in grief.
    So glad you have found your way to deal with it.
    When I knew I’d lose my husband I remembered my Mother in law’s advice. Start planning what needs to be done and stick with it. I’m thankful I had the time to plan. You got tossed in the deep end and by God’s grace ( and your stubbornness not to give up) you’re figuring things out. I’m proud of you

  2. Again, this is why I appreciate you so much, Jo. You’re practical yet thoughtful and you’re not afraid to share your painful spots as well as the bright ones.
    Praying for your health and wellbeing in the days to come.

  3. What a great lesson to everyone. You should write a book. Oh, wait. You are and it is called a blog. I feel like such a lucky person to be able to read it.

  4. Your post clearly shows the love that you have in your life, the support and understanding of family, and the need for you to continue living. Perhaps a wonderful set of family quilts made for some of Kramer’s shirts would be a keepsake.
    Oh, and Congrats on being published again. Read on Rachael Woodard’s Quilted Twins FB post that you have another great pattern published. I replied to her that maybe a QT bundle of fabrics for the pattern could be offered in the near future.

  5. Fortunately I still have my husband but we both “collect” stuff! Two days ago I went 42 years worth of Christmas decorations and whittled 11 boxes down to two small ones. I set aside one box for each of my children with some special things and today they are going to come and go through the other boxes to take what they need/want. The rest is going to a local group that gives things away to people who need them. It was very sentimental but felt great!

  6. Dear Jo,
    You are SO STRONG, so healthy ( except for that pesky cancer thing that keeps showing up☹️). I just admire you so much!!
    I have been reading your blog for about two years now and I’ve gone back to years before and binged on your story when the family was much younger. I ALWAYS wish that we could’ve been friends or neighbors. Your ability to share your personal experiences, the happy and the sad, has really had a positive impact on my life and I’m fairly certain that’s the case for many others who know you and follow you on your blog.
    Thank you, Jo.♥️

  7. This is another step forward for you while holding onto the good. So very proud of you. It looks like you are doing this at the very time you need/want to instead of listening to others – you listened to your heart.
    Love and prayers

  8. Louise Sjödin-Short

    You are an amazing woman! Strong, courageous, practical, loving, caring, sharing, resourceful, efficient, honest and so much more! Thank you for sharing your life! I don’t comment very often but I do read your blog every day and have done that for many years. Just wanted to let you know that I pray for you and your family (in Swedish!) Louise

  9. Jo, I will be going through this in the future. I have helped my mother go through this phase. Saving what makes you happy is best for you. Down the road maybe you will be ready to part with things. I would never judge anyone that chooses to save things. Sounds like you are making healthy choices and that is what is important. I will remember your choices when I get to this point. Thank you.

  10. I so understand wanting to keep the items that remind you of Kramer and keeping those items in a place to be seen and used. My sister passed away from lung cancer and we were very close in age, grew up sharing a room, sharing a wedding year and the birth years of our children and now she is gone. I to have a few select items that were hers that I treasure and I use. I often wear a bracelet and it seems to keep her close to me. I love the t shirts! you are doing it your way and one step at a time Jo, you will be okay.

  11. Thank you for writing one of the wisest, most compassionate, real posts I’ve ever read! I’ve been reading your blog for several years, back to the farm days, so I feel as if we’re friend even though we’ve never met. Watching you deal with Kramer’s death has shown me a woman of great strength . I admire you more than I can say.

  12. You are dealing with Kramer’s death in a very good way. You waited until you felt ready to begin clearing out his things. It’s not good to rush the process. My husband was a state trooper but he begin wood carving early in our marriage, as a stress reliever and now I have several of his beautiful carvings on my shelves, to remind me of him every day. My delight is in showing them to others. Not all realize their value; some express wonder at the detail work, but most don’t realize the hundreds of hours spent in the actual carving. He developed Alzheimers and lost the ability, but the results are everlasting for all of our family.

  13. After our son died, my husband wisely donated a lot of his things quickly. I have found that the longer I hold onto something, the harder it is to get rid of it. Better to donate those things to someone who can use them.

  14. Didn’t Kramer wear cotton button up shirts? Seems I’ve seen them in your photos. I thought a memory quilt of his shirts would be in order. Or a t-shirt quilt if he had that many. He probably wore them out. Hugs!

  15. Good for you. Jo! Kramer would be happy about your choices. My sister became a hoarder after her husband died. We didn’t find out until she died last year.

  16. I love that you are saving some of his stuff from your time together, I would do the same thing I thinks it’s very healthy to have stuff he used over and over during his life. We have a few things like this in our home from my husband’s dad. Nothing of any value just a few things, he loved to wear hats. We have a few of them a army helmet, a fireman hat and his driving cap. His wife buried him with this top hat on.

  17. You are doing a great job! Holding onto a few things is perfect. All have meaning to you and that’s all that’s important. When going through our parents things, I found that I was okay if I just took pictures. I wanted to remember certain items, but I didn’t need to own them.


  18. Very thoughtful post. I’m sorry for your loss but I’m glad you’re keeping the most meaningful items for yourself. Did Kramer wear flannel shirts? They make great pillow (cushion) covers using the fronts – placket, pocket, and all – with the back. My 4 year old grandson LOVES to build a fort with pillows and a quilt; he says it’s cozy. Maybe your childcare kiddos would like to, too, and flannel shirt pillow covers are easy to make, and also easily removed and washable.

  19. Stephanie Penney

    Another idea is if Kramer had any sweaters you could make (or Have someone make) mittens out of them. My mother in law makes sweater mittens and they are the warmest! I had a pair made for my best friend when she lost her dad and she loves them!

  20. I know how hard it is to go through your hubby’s things. I lost my husband in July and I am going through some of the same thing. I have had days where I decide that I need to go through his things. A lot of his clothing have been donated. I kept a few of his favorite t-shirts and I use them to wear around the house (helps keep him close to me). We have 3 children and have been asking them if they would like them. This way they have some memories. When I went though his button down shirts I had the kids choose 2 each, one to make a memory pillow and one to make an apron. I will be putting a tag on them as a memorial. But I do have a lot of days that I can just not go through his stuff. It is a long process and you can only take it one day at a time. Some of my process has stalled because our son and I have to clean some other areas of the house to move things to in order to finish the process. Do what is right for you. He is always with you.

  21. I too recommend maybe quilts or pillows out of his shirts. I wish I would have though about this when I lost my dad. Especially for my kids – who didn’t get the chance to know him.

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