I was working with a couple who were at odds with each other over the things the son inherited from his mother who died almost a year ago. The stacks of stuff in the guest room were the mother's clothes, books, furniture, and papers. It felt like the stuff was the mother's corpse laid out for viewing. The thing is, this stuff didn't even get looked at. The mother's things sat there, in the dark, with the door closed.
The daughter-in-law griped at her husband about the presence of his mother's stuff. She was angry that he let these things take up space in their home. I got the feeling that she missed her partner's attention. The son was still mourning the loss of his mother and wasn't available for his wife. I felt underneath her anger was a great amount of sadness. I think sometimes great sadness makes us feel vulnerable and it can be too much and we feel the need to protect ourselves. I got the sense this was the source of her anger because it was so strong and it wasn't helping the situation.
I took her aside and told her what I felt was happening. Her anger came to a stop and she got very quiet. I said that her husband was probably feeling sad for his own reasons and that her anger wouldn't help reach him. I said she could do her part by understanding and accepting where her husband was coming from. This would open her heart and allow her to feel better. And it might make him feel safe enough to come out of mourning.
Then I took the husband aside and said that I understood his sadness. I've never lost a parent but I imagine it would be hard on me too. I said that almost a year has gone by since his mother died and maybe now was a good time to take a look at her things and see what we might be able to let go of. He was open and a little apprehensive. His wife came by and put her arm around him and he started to cry. We waited for a few minutes in silence.
When he was done crying, I opened the door to the guest room and turned on the light. He came in and took a look around. He started picking up pieces of her clothing and folded them and put them in a big charity bag that his wife held open for him. Not much was said. He got rid of most of his mom's stuff. I got the sense that his heart felt lighter. Plus there was a really nice camaraderie between him and his wife. It's amazing what a quiet understanding in the heart can do.