The Season to Shop Your Virtual Gift Closet

Categories: Bereavement

Every year, month in and month out, she followed in the footsteps of her parents and grandparents collecting and passing on the wisdom learned from generations before her. She would take a lesson learned and reshape it to reflect her words and values. She had done it so long it had become second nature. She told not only her story, but the intertwined stories of those she met along her path that over time had shaped and molded her own values and life lessons. Her methods were born the same day she gave birth to her daughter. A child she had been told she would never have – an unexpected gift.

As the years went by, she moved easily through her daily routine and at the same time occasionally picked up a special treasure as a gift for an upcoming birthday or holiday. These tangible gifts were tucked neatly away in a special closet. She named it her gift closet. Some gifts had a Post-it® note adhered with the recipient’s name, others were there in case of ‘emergency.’ And yes, some were there to be re-gifted.

pile of gifts

Aunt June passed on her wisdom and distributed her tangible gifts until her passing. Before she transitioned from this life, she reminded us she would always, always be with us. Aunt June shared she had been preparing us for our life journey without her in ways we could lean on when her thoughtful tangible gifts and treasures were no longer bestowed upon us. She had knowingly and very intentionally blessed us with gifts that couldn’t be purchased. She had filled our lives with a gift closet of her stories. It was a pure treasure trove of love lessons, mantras, values and tales that would guide us through the turbulent waters of life and steer us back to the roots of what truly mattered, the roots that would hold us up and provide us warmth, shelter, guidance and reassurance long after our last text or physical hug.

Losing a Loved One and Finding Yourself Again

The loss of a loved one is a terrible, unimaginable pain. We can tell ourselves and others that we understand and that we sympathize. We can allow ourselves to believe we are prepared for a loss. The reality is the only way to truly understand is to endure the experience ourselves. Part of enduring the pain is to remember that while people die, love is never ending. There is a bounty and provision to be revealed from the loss of a loved one. This bounty shows itself through the stories available in your personal gift closet. Think of it as a ‘virtual’ gift closet filled by the loved one who has transitioned to their next journey through death.

Grief transforms a person. No one is ever the same after a loss, but there is a re-shaping and a sort of renewal that comes through grief. Central to regaining one’s footing after loss is through honoring the stories. You may not have a closet down the hall to physically retrieve the gift of story, but there are tools to use as you move through the hurt to allow the start of healing.

Start by taking the time to mourn. Allow yourself to get lost in the grief to discover the meaning to go on living the ‘next days’ without the physical presence of someone loved. Allow yourself to recognize that a cerebral understanding through thought is to be followed by an anguish understood in the heart. Alan Wolfelt, a well-known grief counselor and companion, suggests deliberate mourning with a trusted companion by:

  • talking it out
  • writing it out
  • crying it out
  • thinking it out
  • playing it out
  • painting or sculpting it out
  • dancing it out,

This deliberate mourning allows travel through the grief process just as you would travel to a next destination. You have to allow yourself to experience the pain to begin to heal. Through an immersion in grief, you can begin to reconcile the loss and initiate an unveiling of a new normal. You can slowly regain purpose, rediscover love and renew life (Wolfelt).

Love the Darkness for it Shows You the Stars

During these uncertain times of living through a pandemic, we are all experiencing loss in ways we never would have predicted. The loss we are enduring has taken us into a different kind of darkness. For many of us, our loss this year has been the loss of a routine and the loss of in- person social interaction. We are no longer allowed a handshake or a hug. For others, the loss has been much greater as loved ones have become ill and transitioned.

“I love the light for it shows me the way, but I will love the darkness for it shows me the stars.” ~ Og Mandino.

One thing is certain, to move forward after loss, whether the loss of a loved one or the loss of a known normal, one must first look inward by going quiet, by finding a way to be still in the darkness. Through the quiet and stillness offered by the darkness, one can begin to see there is still beauty to behold. For all the tragedy and trauma of the pandemic, there has been a forced transition to a slower way of living. Families have been brought together in new and meaningful ways rediscovering the value of a shared meal or a slow swing on a familiar, but often overlooked, porch. For many there has been a return to entertainment at home through board games. Families are reconnecting with neighbors and evenings are spent stretched out on a backyard blanket identifying the big dipper or waiting patiently for a shooting star to make an exhilarating appearance.

Write Your Own Story

Aunt June said that we had to carry on the tradition of filling the gift closet and ensuring the perfect gifts were chosen for the people we hold so dear in our hearts. She told us the purpose of the gift closet was to keep her memory alive within us. She had known for a number of years she was ill and she had very intentionally woven her lessons into our time together. Aunt June was frequently reminding us to take the lessons she shared, fold them into our own ideas like ingredients in a favorite recipe to write our own story. We came to learn it was about more than keeping her memory alive. It was about leaning on her stories and life lessons when we encountered a situation and weren’t sure how to proceed. We couldn’t call on Aunt June to get her reassurance we were on the right path, but we could go to our virtual gift closet to retrieve one of the many lessons or mantras Aunt June had so lovingly gifted to us.

–by Shironda Brown & Jennifer Webb | NCSU YFCS Master’s Students


For more information and support online, consider these resources for working through grief:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Coronavirus Disease 2019 Grief and Loss

Wolfelt, Alan D., Ph.D., C.T.. The Art of Companioning the Mourner: Caregiver Principles to Bring Hope & Healing. (Brought to you by:) Jessica’s House & Hospice of Emanuel.

Transitions GriefCare

bereavement, gift, grief, holidays, loss, pandemic, Transitions GriefCare, virtual gift, Wolfelt
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