BEL MOONEY: Should I throw out my beloved dead son's belongings? 

2 months ago 41

Dear Bel,

My dilemma is about old possessions. My son was born with a life-threatening heart condition that affected his lungs.

He had two heart ops and a heart/lung transplant at 18. He died after six horrific weeks in intensive care. After his death in 1988, I wanted to keep some of his possessions, but burn the rest.

My husband didn’t think it was right to burn them, so we kept most in the loft — which we have just decided to sort out after my retirement six months ago. My problem is, I can’t get rid of the things.

Going through clothes last week was overwhelming. I cried continually. A friend phoned and said she didn’t think it would do my mental health any good to get rid of things, so to put them back in the loft.

It was like a ton weight lifted off my shoulders to know I was keeping them. We have been putting other things in proper containers instead of cardboard boxes, but not sorting it at all.

There’s so much — everything he ever had: toys, games, books, novelties, schoolwork. I just don’t know what to do about it. I didn’t use to be like this, I could get rid of things quite easily (although I’ve always been a sentimentalist). But the amount I’m trying to deal with is massive.

My husband now thinks we should have burnt the belongings years ago. He has said he would get rid of them to a charity shop if it was left to him because he has his memories. But he would never pressure me.

If I had grandchildren, I’d have had no problem giving them toys and books. But my other son is married to a woman nine years older with grown-up children, so she isn’t going to want any more.

Have you any suggestions, Bel? Should I just leave the things in the loft? I would probably feel guilty about leaving my son to deal with it after we have gone, but I just can’t see a way forward.

I feel, deep down, that my behaviour is abnormal, which is why I should be doing something about it. Seeing the things again is stirring up everything. Should I just bite the bullet and ask my husband to go into the loft and deal with my son’s belongings? I honestly don’t know if I could stand them to be gone.

CYNTHIA

This week, Bel advises a reader who is struggling to know how to cope with her late son's belongings

Truly, I am not surprised your grief is still so raw because you suffered the worse of bereavements, after a long time of suffering.

As a mother, my heart reaches out to you — because I adore my adult children and can easily imagine what such a loss would feel like. I can only offer my heartfelt sympathy — and I’m sure thousands of readers feel the same.

Your email also strikes a chord because five weeks after his death I have been packing up my father’s clothes for charity and deciding what must be done with his things — and the whole process is very painful.

Thought of the day

Politics were the business of grown-up people; we had our own problems to solve . . . we thought the most urgent was to learn how to make the best use of life, quite apart from discovering what purpose life had . . . in this frightening and immeasurable cosmos.

From Reunion by Fred Uhlman (German writer and painter, 1901-1985)

He himself was something of a hoarder, and just this week I wept copious tears (for the first time, which was certainly good) because my daughter took home all the boxes of her old possessions he had kept carefully in his own loft.

She found treasures and was delighted as well as moved.

It will come as no surprise to you when I suggest it would indeed have been better had you asked friends for help in packing up the clothes and giving them to charity years ago. My mother and I will feel much lighter when Dad’s things have gone — and I believe it would have been the case with you.

Instead, the poor, dear relics were stored out of sight, weighing on your heads from above — and now you’ve seen them again your wounds have been reopened. I am so very sad for you. I wonder what your poor late son would think? Wouldn’t he have wished his clothes and suitable ‘stuff’ to have been used to help others — by being donated?

Not burnt — no, because that seems wasteful, but used well. In your place I would give his clothes, toys and objects to charity (one you think he would like), and keep some things, but only burn school reports and suchlike. Forgive me, but I do think this is the ‘way forward’ — and that you will feel better when it is done.

I would ask your other son for help with the task and leave it to the two men. It is a bit difficult at the moment because charity shops are closed because of coronavirus, but that will end.

For your own sake I would do this. Why not pick out some special things and put them in a keepsake box to live downstairs? Then let the burden of the rest be lifted by your husband — in the knowledge that love does not reside in clothes and objects, but in those memories he treasures, as you do.

Don’t think of ‘getting rid of’, but of giving a gift, as your child was gifted to you for 18 years.

My son’s wife is a violent, abusive bully 

Dear Bel,

My son is being emotionally and physically abused by his wife. Married for 12 years, he has been belittled and groomed to take it since they met online.

He’s a broken man —told numerous times that he’s unworthy, won’t be able to work, will have no friends or money and be left on his own.

Now he is being physically attacked. He has no friends. He’s fully controlled by his wife. He asks her when he wants to do anything and the answer is always no.

He works but has to go home as soon as he finishes. During the pandemic his job changed and he can’t guarantee finishing on time, so this has caused more abuse.

His wife is a professional and tells everyone she is the breadwinner and if it wasn’t for her he would be nothing.

We speak on the phone (he calls from work) as I have to support him.

The latest physical abuse caused him to be unable to walk for a while. If you ask him about her, he won’t say anything bad and he can’t see how dangerous this situation is.

Apparently they are trying again to solve their relationship (by doing everything she asks) but how long will this last? He’s afraid to leave as he ‘doesn’t want to be alone’.

I know he has to take the first step but he’s afraid. He has been told if he comes to stay with me I won’t be here forever and he will be left on his own.

What can I do?

DONALD

Your letter is a timely reminder that men, as well as women, suffer violence at home, although many more women than men experience the abuse.

In the year ending March 2019, 4.2 per cent of men aged between 16 and 59 had experienced domestic abuse compared with 8.4 per cent of women, according to the Office for National Statistics.

It may seem surprising to some that a man, being physically stronger, would allow himself to be on the receiving end of physical violence from his partner. But you have to understand how a person’s mind can be taken over, cowed and damaged by a stronger personality.

Men are also less likely to admit what they are suffering because of shame.

Look at domesticviolence.org/domestic-violence-against-men to understand more — and direct your son to the website, too.

Tell him, also, about the excellent Mankind Initiative (mankind.org.uk), the UK’s principal charity set up to help men escape domestic violence. Its helpline is 01823 334244 (weekdays 10am-4pm). They urge victims to call the police in a dangerous situation and your son should heed that, too.

It is essential to stay in regular contact and encourage him to confide the worst of his treatment, being sure not to humiliate your son (as he might see it) by voicing your anger and disbelief. It won’t help if you make him feel more ashamed, so remain calm and listen.

If you direct him to the websites, it should be with the aim of helping him understand what has been going on. Look up the law on coercive control and pass on the details.

I suspect that anxious encouragement to leave her would make him more likely to stay. Victims find it almost impossible to stand up to bullies, so be sure to ask questions and build his confidence, perhaps by remembering what he was like before his marriage, swapping stories, reminding him of things he did well, his friendships etc.

Is there an old friend of his you could get in touch with, to re-establish a relationship? If he has lost identity, it will be important to try your best to get it back.

And then? I’m afraid you can do nothing until your son understands the true nature of this awful, unequal relationship and decides to free himself from punishment.

If you have resources/assets, perhaps tell him he’ll always have practical support and not be left high and dry as she warns.

You say he is afraid of being alone, but many people would think it preferable to being abused. I would remind him that there could well be a new lady waiting online — one who would not bully him.

You are his rock, so take it carefully. In the end, if (sadly) he does decide to stay with his abusive jailor, he will need those talks with you all the more. And you can be vigilant about his safety.

 And finally...Haunted by a shameful old memory

PERHAPS it’s a result of age and recent bereavement, but I lie awake at night (oh, insomnia — after Nytol and melatonin and herbal tea) brooding on the past. The strangest memories can slide into your mind in the small hours — forgotten for years, yet suddenly vivid.

Does this happen to you? Old memories, old regrets . . .

It must have been the promise of spring, but the other night the magical green flowered carpet flew in to haunt me.

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers' questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk.

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

Every Saturday night, my brother and I stayed with our father’s parents in their rented house, while my parents had a night free. I’d lived the first two years of my life in their home, because my young parents couldn’t get a council house in bombed-out Liverpool.

My brother Bill and I each had a bedroom in that spotless, cosy home. Mine had a single bed and a kidney-shaped dressing table — and one day Nan decided it needed a new carpet. (They weren’t fitted in those days, just put on top of lino).

We went shopping and I chose a spring-green weave, patterned with fresh white daisies. How pretty it was!

The following Saturday, Nan told me the magic carpet was upstairs. Excited, I dashed for the stairs, but was hauled back while she fetched a rag to wipe the soles of my shoes. Why didn’t she ask me to take them off?

Anyway, a tantrum followed, and the cross child (nine or ten?) kicked out at her, resenting the indignity of having my feet wiped. She was very upset, and that lovely new mat waited, unsullied.

Why does guilt return? I brood on the fact that my grandmother worked as a dinner lady at Childwall Valley Girls’ School behind their house, and also as a cleaner.

She came every day to give my brother and me our tea when Mum was still at work, lugged heavy shopping, washed up, ironed our clothes. What did I understand about the relentless toil, the sheer graft that reddened her rough hands and paid for that precious carpet?

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