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Dear Annie: My bereaved mom’s reluctant to part with dad’s stuff

A bereaved woman sorting through her late husband's belongings

Dear Annie: How soon is it okay to talk to Mom about what to do with Dad’s things? He died in hospital, but everything from his shaving kit to his favorite pajamas under the pillow are still exactly how he left them at home. How do I persuade Mom that it might be time to sort his things out? She has been spending a lot of time with us since he passed. – JS

Annie says: Without knowing how recently your father died it’s hard to answer with any specifics. And as I’ve mentioned before, there aren’t any rules to grief, much as we might want there to be.

However, if we’re talking a matter of weeks since he died, then it’s too soon. If it’s considerably longer than that, then it might be worth a conversation with your mom, especially if it means she’s not able to live in her own home.

It’s a major moment in the grieving process – going through and sorting the things of the deceased – and avoiding it can be a powerful way of making them feel less dead. It’s amazing what meaning we attribute to ‘things’.

So go gently. If it feels appropriate, maybe get some of your mom's friends around to help and do it bit by bit; even if it’s making a decision about keeping or giving away just one item a day, for a while. Some things may take years. The other thing to bear in mind is what will be helpful for your mom to let go of, and what will be helpful for her to keep hold of. Not everything has to go.

If you have a question for Annie to answer in this column, you can write to her at

About Annie

Annie Broadbent is a trained psychosynthesis counselor, with specialist experience working with the bereaved. As a therapist she explores the mind, body, feelings and spirit, working with individuals in a way that is most appropriate for them.

She is the author of bestselling self-help book We Need to Talk About Grief, inspired by personal experiences of living through bereavement, including her own. Whilst writing her book, Annie volunteered at a hospice and has given a number of talks on issues around grief, bereavement and mental health.

Regretfully, Annie cannot enter into personal correspondence

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