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Grateful for the Grief That Comes with Downsizing

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By Paul Graves

Since mid-May, the Graves’ family has been mentally and tangibly downsizing our “stuff” in order to move into a smaller, and one-level, house at the end of August.  I can say with experiential authority that downsizing really goes against my grain!         

I’m a serious klutz when it comes to working with wood; but I know wood well enough to realize wood rebels when I try to cut, plane, or sand against or across the grain.  The grain cliché also comes alive when we bump up against significant changes in our routines and/or expectations.

Like preparing to move to a new house.  Many people go through this ritual every year. Now in a few weeks, it’s our turn.  Choosing which furniture to sell, which personal items to discard, what to take with us – downsizing can suck!

At some moments, downsizing is an intense exercise in grief.  Allow me to illustrate.  I’ve reluctantly spent time in my home office saying goodbye to boxes of files that contain important sermonic memories. (Many sermons are still on my computer, though!)

I first preached a sermon when I was 15.  So for 62 years (and counting) I’ve accumulated manuscripts or sermon notes.  I made a conscious decision that these papers will not come with me to our new home.  A rational decision, yes. 

But I’ve emotionally fought my reason all the way.  My memories from preaching will stay with me.  But still I grieve.

Additionally, I decided to let go of another collection of old sermons.  They belonged to my grandfather.  He began preaching in 1910, and the last sermon I found in his sermon box was from 1971.

I loved him deeply as my grandpa.  I’ve gleaned wisdom and insight from reading some of his proclamations.  I said goodbye to his paperwork, but I keep him in my heart.  How could I discard 123 years of paper sermons between Grandpa and me?  It wasn’t easy! 

Practically, there are many reasons why the paper isn’t needed anymore.  Emotionally, the reasons are murkier to explain.  Maybe they don’t need to be explained to anyone else, not even to myself. 

The grief simply needs to be experienced.  Because, you see, any grief I experience in this downsizing of our collective sermons is borne out of a deeper gratitude.

Without a deep sense of gratitude, no one would ever feel grief!  The cliché that comes to me is something like “Suffering is the price of love.”  Downsizing wouldn’t be such an emotional challenge if it wasn’t immersed in the gratitude and love that helps create a life worth living.

After living nearly 23 in the same house, Sue and I are relocating our home to a new house.  The process has been both exciting and overwhelming for us both.  Our summer has been a mix of feelings and a flurry of preparations that mess with our minds every day. 

We grieve, we laugh, we throw up our hands in panic, we pack boxes and we discard unneeded “stuff”.  Recently, we refreshed our memories about the late comedian George Carlin’s classic take on “stuff”.  (See it on You Tube if you dare!) 

It’s a great reminder that “stuff” may not be as important as we think. So…how do you deal with your “stuff” — whether you are downsizing prior to a move, or simply choosing to discard what you may still want, but no longer need? 

Paul Graves

About Paul Graves

Paul Graves is a retired and re-focused United Methodist pastor and a long-time resident of Sandpoint, Idaho, where he formerly served on city council and mayor. His second career is in geriatric social work, and since 2005 he's been the Lead Geezer-in-Training of Elder Advocates, a consulting and teaching ministry on aging issues. Since 1992, Graves has been a volunteer chaplain for Bonner Community Hospice. His columns regularly appear in the Spokesman-Review's Faith and Values section and he also writes the Dear Geezer column for the Bonner County Daily Bee and is the host of the bi-weekly Geezer Forum on aging issues in Sandpoint.

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