How Transitional Objects Can Help Grief

THEin the fall my 94 year old dad spent most of his last days in his family room, rarely moving from his gray leather seat. Within five months of his death, I transported the chair 450 miles to my home in Dallas. Sitting in his favorite piece of furniture, now tucked away in the corner of my bedroom, gives me comfort and makes me feel closer to him.

Grieving is a universal experience, and it is omnipresent. Research published by the National Academy of Sciences suggests that every COVID-19-related death in the United States affects at least nine people, meaning millions of people grapple with the physical, mental and emotional aspects of grieving. The photos, videos and stories shared can give comfort to those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. But something more tangible – a piece of clothing, a favorite book, or, in my case, a square chair – can create a strong bond and make the grieving process a little less painful.

Relieving grief through someone’s possessions is not a new phenomenon. A Study 2021 conducted by the University of York suggests that during the Ice Age, people kept everyday items like grindstones and spoons to maintain a bond with those who had died. The researchers explained that keeping these items helped people maintain an emotional connection with the deceased. While the items we keep in the 21st century have changed, the benefits of keeping the possessions of a loved one who have passed are still alive today.

“For many people, this is proof that the person existed, especially if the death was unexpected”, – Megan Devine, LPC

“Objects and objects often contain a lot of memories and experiences and more easily bring back our loved ones”, explains Helen Marlo, Ph.D., president of the department of clinical psychology at the University of Notre Dame de Namur in Belmont, in California. . Dr Marlo says that you can be motivated to invest mental energy in an object, even if it doesn’t have significant meaning, because you can channel your desire for the person you lost on the object.

“For a lot of people, it’s proof that the person existed, especially if the death was unexpected,” says Megan Devine, LPC, psychotherapist and best-selling author of It’s good that you’re not well. “Even when death was expected, there is sometimes this unreality as if they were here, and now they are not.”

Dr Marlo notes that transitional objects, like dolls or blankets that help relieve anxiety, have been used to help children separate from a parent, but see similar application with adults. “Even though we’re adults and technically independent, we’re moving on from the fact that they’re not a part of our life at all,” she says. By keeping my father’s chair, I am not trying to be independent from him. Instead, I rely on him to deal with the anxiety and feelings of grief around our final separation. A Study 2020 Posted in Global psychiatry interviewed mothers of deceased infants and found that transitional objects help provide security and symbolic connections to the bereaved.

While a meaningful item can ease grief, others may not understand your need to keep a parent’s sweater, a sibling’s CD collection, or a partner’s shoes. They may think you should get out of your grief. “Sometimes when people tell us to move on, they say, ‘I don’t want you to hurt anymore,'” says David Kessler, bestselling author of Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage Of Mourning, and founder of He explains that we are not moving forward, recovering and recovering. Grieving is not like a disease that we cure, he says. Instead, we learn to live with it.

Faced with a house full of clothes, photos, and collectibles, knowing what to keep as one of your transitional items can be daunting or straightforward. What Kessler often asks the bereaved if an object in question brings them comfort. In addition, he suggests reflecting on how you feel about an object and also consider how the person would feel about it.

In Find meaning, Kessler talks about the death of her young child David. The things that were important to his son are important to Kessler, and he treats them that way. “I feel like they’re part of the person,” he says. Recently, Kessler was sorting out one of David’s boxes and spotted his high school algebra book. His instinct was to keep it, but after realizing that his son would say, “Why the hell would I keep my algebra book?” he felt he could let it go. The bottom line: you don’t have to hang on to every little thing. Kessler suggests photographing objects, because you can get the same emotional response from the picture.

At the same time, you don’t have to rent a dumpster and fill it to the brim. “We have this kind of cultural idea that the best thing to do is get rid of everything,” says Devine. “That you don’t need ‘reminders’ of your grief. Just as every relationship is unique, so is every expression of grief. It could mean keeping whatever makes sense or eliminating most of what the person left behind.

In addition to my father’s chair, I kept a few pieces of his clothes. The one I wear the most is a cobalt blue sweatshirt. I rolled up the long sleeves and kept two candies that he hid in the left pocket. Some days when I miss it, I take the oversized hoodie out of my closet and put it on. “When you put on a parent’s or partner’s clothes, it’s like they’re clinging to you,” Devine explains. “You are literally enveloped in something that enveloped them before, so there is a continuation of the relationship there.”

Weeks before the first anniversary of my father’s death, my sisters, mother, and I plan to empty his closet. We will donate her costumes, shirts and shoes to a charity that provides clothes to homeless people looking for a job interview. I can pick out a few sweaters and t-shirts as mementos of him, but knowing that my dad spent his last days in the same chair I see every morning keeps us connected. I imagine that his chair will always be the element that brings me peace.

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