My father’s death has made me a hoarder. Maybe more of a pack rat. No a hoarder. I’ve become a hoarder since my father’s passing.

Prior to my father’s passing I strongly believed that anything I wasn’t using over a period of time was to be disposed of or donated. Clutter makes my skin crawl, I despise it. Just ask my very patient boyfriend, I’ve been known to sell quite a few of our items that were “collecting dust” through the years.

The weeks following the death of my father are a blur. As my mother began the painful process of transitioning from a caregiver to a widow she slowly began disposing of my father’s belongings.

Many times you will hear that the grieving begins after the funeral. Let me paint this heartbreaking image. Close your eyes and think about disposing your loved one’s toothbrush, comb, medications or other personal belongings. As you sort through each item it’s as if someone is stabbing you in the heart. The pain is excruciating, you can barely breathe. You have to take frequent breaks during this painful process because many times you are certain you will die right there, smack in the middle of your deceased loved one’s belongings.

While it was excruciating for me, my mother lived with my father. My parents shared 44 years of memories. She was surrounded by constant reminders of the life she once had.

We made two piles. Keep and donate. Slowly the piles grew. The tears were endless, the pain paralyzing.

I watched my mother slowly; with tears in her eyes pack some of my father’s items. Some items were packed only to be unpacked because we weren’t ready. As we tackled his clothing the pain became unbearable. I remember watching her carefully unfold each shirt and very slowly with a shaky voice recite the history behind the shirt. After each memory tears filled our eyes as I helplessly watched my grief stricken mother refold the shirt. The living room which was once a place of happy memories was now filled with the sounds of our cries and the echoes of our hearts breaking over and over.

Suddenly, I wanted every single shirt. I needed them, they were necessary for my survival. I began to frantically fill a trash bag with every single shirt from the donate pile. Each shirt was connected to a memory vital to my existence.

I decided that I was going to do something with my father’s shirts. I was going to find someone to make a beautiful quilt with them. Instantly I felt like a genius.

I found a wonderful group dedicated to making quilts from shirts. I spent my entire lunch hour speaking to a representative; they were kind enough to send me a pamphlet with stitching samples. I was set! The only thing left was to send them the shirts.

I drove with the shirts in my back seat for a month. I would glance at them in my rear-view mirror and smile at them. If I was sitting in traffic I would talk to them. If I was missing my father I would cry to them. For that month, it was as if my father was a passenger in my car. When the time came to remove the shirts, I carried them to my closet.

The hefty bag of my father’s shirts has now taken residency in my closet right next to boxes of photos, cards and other memorabilia from my Dad.

These items greet me every mourning, noon and night. The morning is the most painful for me. Each morning turns into a moment of mourning for my beloved father. Somehow I have begun a ritual of quietly looking at the bag, smiling and asking the bag to give me the strength to get through the day. If I close my eyes and concentrate sometimes I can see my father standing next to me by his shirts.

Do hoarders talk to their prized possessions?

Eventually I will send those shirts to be made into a quilt, but for now I’ll hold onto them as I grieve my father.

Photo credit: dhammza via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Lisa Ingrassia

Lisa is the Director of Events at Zenith Marketing Group, an insurance brokerage firm located in Freehold, NJ. She is passionate about sharing her father’s journey with cancer and bringing attention the difficult path a caregiver must walk. She has written guest articles for the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders, The Mighty & Her View From Home. She is also a guest blogger for The Huffington Post. Fun fact: She’s obsessed with her Boston terrier Diesel and loves the color blue.