Laundry and Grief

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BY: Diane Snyder Cowan

Laundry, dishes, vacuuming, mopping, taking out the garbage, lawn care, plowing.  What is the grief connection?

Maybe your laundry basket was always full, keeping you plenty busy, even after load after loads of clothes were already washed and dried.

There are so many connections between grief and laundry. It may have seemed as if you were always doing laundry – and now there are fewer items in the basket, a reminder that your loved one is missing. While the load is lighter, it seems much heavier. If your partner died, you might not have wanted to wash the last set of used sheets for fear of losing the scent of him or her. Then there’s finding the missing sock or the shirt in the bottom of the hamper that triggers sadness and longing.   

The washing machine itself is a great metaphor for grief. The only “normal” in the life of the bereaved is the setting on the washing machine.  Clothes get tumbled up just like our grief reactions and feelings.  The material is different after each washing. The brand new blouse or shirt is less bright and more worn with each cycle just as grief becomes less intense over time. You simply cannot wash away your grief. 

What about washing the dishes? There may be fewer plates and glasses which serve as another reminder. There are so many household chores and errands to run. What was the division of labor in your home? Who did cooking, the washing, cleaning, or yardwork?  Are you now responsible and able to complete these chores? Will you have to hire help? How does this impact your grief? When you now trudge across the lawn to fill the birdfeeder, does it trigger your grief and make you pause?  Does pulling out the vacuum trigger anger or sadness?  Does trying to reset the wi-fi cause enormous frustration?  Does breaking your partner’s favorite dish or glass bring a deluge of tears? So many questions.  So many changes. These are common grief responses in the day to day living without your partner or spouse.

Adjusting to a new normal as part of the grief process includes doing chores. For some, these act as triggers. For others, they are challenges.  And for others still, they are opportunities.  For most, they are all three and in time help transform the grief.    

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