What do we do with a dying friend's items?
July 24, 2019 1:48 AM   Subscribe

My wife's best friend has a serious disease and is going to die before summer is over. We're all under 40, the disease progression is such that there's nothing left to do. I'm learning how to best support my wife through all this, and as such have what's probably a trivial question inside.

Earlier this year my wife's friend, Stacey, was having a particularly good day and was able to come over to our house for a visit. She brought with her a hoodie and a lunchbox, and long story short, happened to leave those two things behind. This was one of the last times my wife and Stacey were together and there have been attempts on both sides to connect and to return the items but it hasn't happened.

At this point now it would be ludicrous to worry about Stacey needing a lunchbox. She's not missing it and has no need for it.

And the lunchbox is sitting in limbo on our counter... just kind of waiting around for a pickup that will never happen now. I think that limbo is what prompted my question.

What do we do with these items? Is it ok to keep them?

The hoodie, as I see it, has become integrated into our home in a way that keeps it ostensibly functional but also would serve as a special remembrance of Stacey after she's gone: We have a spot for hoodies for when it gets chilly, so Stacey's hoodie is hung in there with the rest right now. We probably see it daily. Our 5 year old might grab it on occasion. It's living a good life for a hoodie.

If we see Stacey again, it's going to be saying goodbye while she's at her family home. I hope for my wife's sake that can happen but have no idea if it will. Should we bring the items with and quietly leave them in the house? That seems a little odd. And I can't imagine we ask Stacey or her husband about them at that time.

And if we do keep them, should I do anything to help my wife with some closure around the lunchbox so it can actually be more than a paperweight? I have no problem with it sitting out for as long as it needs to but I regularly wonder if I should tell my wife that I think Stacey would be glad she has these things to serve as a reminder of their friendship.

I apologize for any crassness in this question of acting like the death has all but happened... I'm probably making a mountains out of a molehill here, or following some typical grieving behavior of focusing on the single small item I can manage. I just know sooner or later something's going to happen with these two items and I'd like to be prepared to best support my wife.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
When you lose someone you love, parts of who they were remain with you forever, really. The lunchbox and the hoodie are physical representations of Stacey. There will come a time when your wife sees them and breaks down, because this, this is her friend now. This is something she still has. I think you should let them live in your home, and if they move to different places, it should be naturally. I do not think you should return them, unless they are items of importance to Stacey's family. Maybe mention them if you can in a quiet conversation with someone on the family side, "We have these. I think it would be best to keep them, so that my wife has them to remember her by later, unless you would like them returned?"

One of my dearest friends died a few years ago, and I immediately thought of a silver ring he gave me once. I wore it for the next year, because it made me feel closer to him. I could see your wife wanting to wear the hoodie occasionally, to feel closer to Stacey. The one place to be careful is to perhaps put the lunchbox in a less visible place after Stacey passes. Somewhere that she won't immediately see it. Some people prefer mementos be out of sight to prevent unpredictable weeping, to have more control over when they remember a person. My oldest friend got a tattoo with her mom, before her mom's passing, and had it on the back of her neck for just this reason. She did not want her grief to jump out and surprise her.

By the way, and this is of course just my opinion - I think these thoughts you are having now are lovely, and sensitive, and kind. You are not overthinking. You are preparing to best support your wife.
posted by routergirl at 2:35 AM on July 24, 2019 [11 favorites]

You are not overthinking this. I have recently been in similar straits, and the extra-minor shot is extra-difficult, for that reason.

I’m sorry but my answer is to just ask your partner. I wish there were a better one.
posted by pompomtom at 3:14 AM on July 24, 2019

Should we bring the items with and quietly leave them in the house?

Yes. If that opportunity does not arise, then hang on to them. It’s not something to focus on at the moment. Your wife might even be bothered by questions about what to do with them when she’s about to lose her friend, so I would tread carefully with that.
posted by sallybrown at 4:03 AM on July 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

After all is said and done and you still have these things, and depending on the kind of lunchbox, you could grow plants in it. Herbs that touch upon food memories could be one conceptual approach, for instance.

And yeah, just leave them for now.
posted by rhizome at 4:05 AM on July 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

My mom left her watch at my house a few months before she died. Afterwards, I asked my sisters if I could keep it, and they said yes.

If your wife wants to keep these things, I’d suggest asking the partner after at least several months have passed. I would suggest phrasing like “Would you mind?” rather than routergirls’ “I think it’s best.” You don’t know what’s best or if these particular things would matter to her partner for some reason. I would not feel comfortable just keeping something that would technically belong to the partner after Stacey dies.

And this isn’t crass to think about. You’re being sensitive to everyone involved.
posted by FencingGal at 4:14 AM on July 24, 2019 [19 favorites]

It's wonderful that you are thinking so deeply about items that might appear to be so ephemeral, and want to honor Stacey's wishes about every aspect of her life and belongings.

I wonder if Stacey has made a plan herself, or a will, for the next life for her belongings? If she knew the path she was going to take, she likely had time to do this. I don't see anything wrong with gently asking her partner if this is the case, and offering to return the couple of items. The partner might say, "Oh, I was wondering what happened to that lunchbox - she promised it to her nephew", for example" or might also say "No, you keep them. Stacey would have wanted you to have a keepsake."
Either way you get to make closure yourself about these items, whose fates are obviously troubling you.

You and your wife sound like deep and faithful friends of Stacey, and I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by citygirl at 5:55 AM on July 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

I wish you and your wife were my friends.

The fact that you two are even thinking about this puts you in my good books. Most people would just trash the items and never think of them again.
posted by james33 at 6:27 AM on July 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hmmm...my best friend died 10 months ago, so it's very easy for me to imagine myself in your situation. And after a bit of daydreaming, and tears, I'm certain I'd keep the hoodie forever, and quietly (silently) return the lunchbox if an easy opportunity presents itself. Otherwise I'd keep it and use it as Stacey would've, and then get rid of it when it's worn out. (I just don't feel super sentimental about the lunchbox.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:44 AM on July 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

I agree with routergirl’s advice, except that I would caution you about moving the lunchbox without asking your wife. My friend’s husband innocently moved a similar item under similar circumstances and it felt to her like a compounded loss, triggering a fresh wave of grief. Grief is weird and plays according to its own rules. Also, I think you’re absolutely lovely to be concerned about this and I envy your wife in having someone so supportive.
posted by HotToddy at 7:48 AM on July 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

I can tell you a technique my husband uses for me around stuff that is hard or charged for me: "Would you like...?" So, "Hey, would you like to keep this lunchbox {in the location where we put other sentimental/collectible things OR a location that you both tend to think of as a safe spot for delicate things}, or do you want to leave it where it is for now?" That will give her a safe way to tell you what she would like to do or where her priorities are with regard to them at the moment.

I mean, for me, sometimes it's good for me to hear him acknowledge that it's A Thing, in a supportive way.

I personally am Team Keep Them, unless you think either of them are likely to be hugely sentimental items for someone closer to her than you. In that case you keep them until the family reaches the dispensation-of-items stage and ask at that point if they wanted them back or if it's okay for you to keep them.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:14 AM on July 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

And I can't imagine we ask Stacey or her husband about them at that time.

I don't know Stacey or her husband or the type of relationship you share with them, but the people I've been close to who were at the end stages of a terminal situation have appreciated trivial conversations where the topic wasn't about their imminent death.
posted by jamaro at 10:38 AM on July 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I would not feel comfortable just keeping something that would technically belong to the partner after Stacey dies.

Seconding this. The stuff belongs to Stacey. It will belong to her estate when she dies.Get over there and drop it off at the house. There's really no right and moral way to think about keeping someone else's stuff.

I'm not sure what "technically" is supposed to mean in the post I've quoted above. There's no "technically" about it.
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:04 PM on July 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a dear friend who lent me her bike a couple of years before she died after my favorite bike ever was stolen. She died unexpectedly, I kept the bike. It's Julie's bike. I will always keep it.
posted by nikaspark at 8:46 PM on July 24, 2019

Just coming back to say, yes, my wording needed improvement. Fortunately the hive mind came in and helped. :) Not to say "probably best if" you keep them. I worded that based on my experience with my best oldest friend, who would have understood that even the act of me returning them would cause her a fresh wave of grief over her mom. Lots of good advice here, though. Make sure you take care of yourself, too (eat, drink, sleep when you can/need to). Caring for a loved one during a time of grief is taxing, and you need to be at your best to allow you to support her.
posted by routergirl at 1:24 AM on July 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding this. The stuff belongs to Stacey. It will belong to her estate when she dies.Get over there and drop it off at the house. There's really no right and moral way to think about keeping someone else's stuff.
Well, another internet stranger disagrees. We are not talking about stealing something. We are talking about "a friend left this at my house." And death. And grief. And, it's not a Duesenberg Model J, it's a hoodie and a lunchbox. Which in my morally relative world does make a qualitative difference.

If they want them back, great, but I don't see a giant moral obligation here.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:59 PM on July 30, 2019

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