Stuck in Grief and Clutter

December 16th, 2022

When grief seems here to stay

sad man clutching his loved one's sweater. Image by Dmytro Zinkevych. Grief manifests in many forms – including clutter and hoarding. See how Ask Amy advises this man who feels stuck in grief.

Grief manifests in many forms – including clutter and hoarding. See how advice columnist Amy Dickinson advises this man who feels stuck in grief in this installment of “Ask Amy.”

Dear Amy:

I am a single gay man in my early 60s. I am having a real problem getting beyond grief.

My ex-partner died almost five years ago. We were a couple for 11 years but lived together a total of 21 years and were very good friends.

I was there when he took his last breath, along with two of his dearest friends.

I also lost my younger brother seven years ago and a handful of close friends in between – due mostly to cancer.

My circle of friends has shrunk to almost nothing. I seem to be stuck in grief and can’t move forward. I am a very responsible man. I go to work every day, pay my bills and such, but there is a huge void in my life because so many people in my own little world are gone. I think of them often and truly believe they would never want me to carry on like this. They’d want me to move forward with my life, but I just seem to be stuck.

I have neglected staying on top of clutter at home and repurposing things I’ve been wanting to get rid of for a long time. I can’t just throw perfectly good things away, but the job of going through everything intimidates me.

I’m thinking of advertising for someone to help (of course, I would pay them), and maybe do one little project/area at a time like the kitchen, then the storage closet, or the spare room, which belonged to my dear ex-partner.

I think I’m afraid of being judged for letting things go. I know I need to get over that but I would appreciate your input about getting beyond this.

– Stuck in Grief

Dear Stuck:

“Getting beyond” your grief seems like such a big lift; learning to live differently alongside your grief might be a way to frame your efforts.

You are insightful to realize that your household paralysis is linked to your grief. The clutter in your home is a physical manifestation of how powerless you feel. It is a common reaction to your experience, which might be characterized as Prolonged Grief Disorder, which is also known as “complicated grief.”

You need and deserve professional help through grief therapy (you should also be screened for depression).

You will also start to feel better very quickly when you make inroads in clearing out your living space. This is an empowering form of self-care.

The LGBTQ community where you live can help to hook you up with grief groups, cleaners, and organizers. Churches and other faith communities will also sometimes volunteer to help. And – I assure you – anyone who comes into your home to do this 1) will never judge you, and 2) will have seen much more complicated clutter than yours.

In the new film “Spoiler Alert,” Sally Field’s character, who is grieving the loss of her son to cancer, offers this profound insight: “You have to run the race in front of you, because that’s all there is.” And all races are run – one step at a time.

Related: Understand grief reaction in order to manage it

Want to get even more life tips from Amy? Read more of her advice columns here!

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart – ranging from being stuck in grief to DNA surprises. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2022 by Amy Dickinson

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