Swedish Death Cleaning Brings Peace and Joy

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The Swedish have an extremely pragmatic term known as döstädning. Translated, the term means death cleaning, as means death and städning means cleaning. It is the common practice of leaving one’s physical possessions and personal effects in good order to make things easier for loved ones upon our death. From my own experience, the process actually brings great peace and joy.

I recently read The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson to help me face a houseful of things that belonged to my late father, mother, and grandmother. Although I generally have little attachment or sentimentality toward material objects, I found it painfully difficult to part with things that belonged to people I love.

When my father died six years ago, it fell to me to deal with his possessions. With the exception of his clothing, my mom wanted us to keep nearly everything else of my dad’s, including a wooden duck lamp he made in high school. Suffice it to say it’s an ugly duckling. That poor thing lived more than sixty years in a box that has moved from my grandmother’s house, to my parents’ house, to my mom’s condo, to my attic. It’s the poster child for Swedish death cleaning, yet no one could let it go.

After my mom passed away I knew I had to deal with her things, my dad’s things, and all of my grandmother’s things Mom had kept for more than twenty-five years. A few treasures found good homes, but a huge stash of furniture, books, knick-knacks, decor, and memorabilia weighed heavy on my mind and on our attic floor.

Not only did Swedish death cleaning help me sort through my family’s belongings, it gave me a reverent opportunity to revisit and honor them. I was finally able to keep the memories and say goodbye to the objects. It also made me more aware of my own limited time and space on this planet. I’ve whittled down my possessions to what I need and what truly sparks joy, as Marie Kondo advises. My affairs are now in order to make things easier for my survivors, giving me enormous peace of mind.

The process left me with an unexpected sense of serenity, happiness, and increased appreciation for what really matters in life. I’m grateful to be in good health, and I plan to live the rest of my days unburdened by excessive material objects. I do have a secret desire that my dad’s lamp is bringing joy to someone who finds it just ducky. §

“I never saw a U-Haul behind a hearse.”
~ Billy Graham, evangelist

The Elegance of the Man in the Moon

IMG_1680This Father’s Day coincides with a waning Strawberry moon and a supermoon making it exceptionally full and bright. The moon’s gossamer glow both increases and soothes my melancholy. I miss my dad even more now that my mother is gone, too.

Gazing up, I see the man in the moon and picture my father. I imagine Claude Debussy’s piano classic Claire de Lune quietly playing in the background as a perfect accompaniment to my bittersweet emotions.

Claire de Lune, meaning moonlight, is one of the most well-known and beloved piano pieces of all time. It is the third and most famous movement of Debussy’s 1890 Suite Bergamasque. In a spirit of creative cooperation, Debussy was inspired by Paul Verlaine’s poem Claire de Lune, which was inspired by the moon itself.

Whether or not one understands French, the poem sounds lovely. “Et leur chanson se mele au clair de lune. Au calme clair de lune triste et beau. These lines are translated to say, “And their song mingles with the moonlight. With the sad and beautiful moonlight.”

Triste et beau. Sad and beautiful. Yes, those two words do strike a chord. I’m in awe of nature’s ability to inspire masterpieces that express our seemingly inexpressible emotions. Both nature and art connect us through a timeless shared humanity. A humanity that collectively understands the deep missing of a father.

My mind travels back to a moonlit evening many years ago. My handsome young dad is at the piano plucking out chords and humming a tune. He had an ear for music and could find the notes to any song he heard. My sisters and I gather around him in our nightgowns, squeaky clean from evening baths, and sing together for almost an hour before dreamily floating off to bed.

My dad was an optimist who believed in hard work and easy living. He enjoyed the simple things and could make an impromptu evening around the piano feel like a special occasion. He filled ordinary moments with extraordinary memories and elegant lessons in living.

Looking up at the full moon this evening I wish my dad a happy father’s day. Silhouetted against a heavenly circle of light I blow a kiss to the man in the moon. He is sitting at a piano playing Claire de Lune. §

“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived and let me watch him do it.”
~Clarence Budington Kelland