After My Mom Died, I Literally Moved Through Grief While Downsizing Homes
Every time I’ve moved, no matter the time of year, Mamma’s go-to question was “Where will you put your Christmas tree?” By far, Christmas was her favorite holiday. This past holiday season was the first in my new place, and my first without her. With every ornament I hung, I was flooded with memories of my sweet Mamma.
She died suddenly of an embolism on March 2, 2021. A couple of dear girlfriends held my hand through it all, trying to help me make sense of the unthinkable. “Your life has completely changed at this very moment,” one of them said. They were right.
While moving through grief, experts recommend avoiding major decisions like the change of address that comes with moving. But, due to unavoidable family circumstances, I had no better choice than to move by the month’s end. Thankfully, I had for a long time known the importance of therapy, and immediately got on Dr. Berrylin Mangin’s calendar. She’d helped me through other losses such as divorce and my youth — I’m 50 years old, after all.
Downsizing into a 650-square-foot apartment, with each box I unpacked Mangin’s wisdom rang true: “No matter how bad the choices are, you always have a choice. And, there’s power in that choice.” She, along with my trusted circle of support, helped me navigate my life-changing choice during undoubtedly the worst year of my life.
Once I claimed the power in my choice to downsize, there was some heavy lifting that involved not one single box. It was about finding my inner compass.
Even the smallest tasks shook me. So, writing (not typing) micro to-do lists became a morning ritual along with journaling my thoughts on grief and downsizing. Studies show that there is a heart-mind connection through the motion of pen to paper that you simply can’t get from typing or dictating. But, even with all of my handwritten notes, there were times that I relied upon my circle of support to help prioritize those lists.
These rituals became my favorite part of the day. “It’s good to have rituals around grief — ways where you are attentive to your grief whether it’s journaling, walking, or grounding into nature. Visualize yourself putting it on a shelf, or setting it somewhere so that you can put it away before doing the next thing you need to do,” Mangin said. In doing so, I learned to compartmentalize my grief in order to focus on the move. “Whatever you can do to make it as tangible as possible. But, also to know it’s not always going to work,” she reminded me.
Let’s face it. Moving sucks, even on the best of days. On days when I just couldn’t pack or unpack another box, I didn’t. By giving myself grace in understanding that grief literally lives in the body, there were times that a nap or mindless TV was the best medicine.
My therapist helped me learn how to connect with my body while scanning for tension. When I felt triggered by grief during the actual moving process, one of my favorite ways to keep from spiraling was to place an ice pack upon my chest. Mangin explained that the vagus nerve, which runs from the base of the brain all the way through the body’s vital organs to the abdomen, plays an essential role in the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for calming the body down after trauma of any kind.
It’s been a year since I last got to talk to Mamma, at least in person. I miss her everyday. Grief is now part of my life story, which includes mourning the loss of who I was before that fateful day. It’s important to me that I move through all of the feelings as they come, with validation and perspective.“When grief is really huge, we need to be personal with our grief and perspective takes a back seat,” said Mangin in a recent session.
I’m learning to honor perspective within my own life, but also with others’ personal sorrows. Still, no matter the perspective, comparison will get me nowhere. As for that final box of Mamma’s things still sitting in my closet? It’s not hurting a thing, and will be there when I get to it.