Carolyn Hax: Holding onto his car means hanging onto grief

Carolyn Hax
Columnist September 24, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My fiance died suddenly about six months ago. Needless to say, I was emotionally a mess. In the past few months I have been trying to move on as best I can.

His family was always inviting and gracious to me when we were together, and continue to be so to this day. Like a lot of young people, my fiance did not have a will. My fiance’s parents and I essentially split his belongings, but they gave me his car (which was much nicer than my heap).

Every single time I get in it, I think of him. My therapist gently suggested that I get rid of it. But I don’t want to look like I am throwing their generosity back in their faces. I also do not want to sell it without telling them — shouldn’t they be able to make the first offer?


Anonymous

I am so sorry, that’s awful.

Given your (mercifully) good relationship with his parents, I think it’s best just to tell them it hurts too much to use the car. Then say you didn’t want to take any action without letting them know first, and offer to give back, not sell them, the car if they want it — otherwise you will trade it in.

It was essentially a gift, and so your choices are to return the gift or get their blessing to handle it as you choose. If you’re not ready, then hang on to the car and let time soften your grief. It will — that’s just the way we’re wired.

For the Grieving Fiancee:

My parents gave me my twin brother’s car after he died. Yes, I thought of him every time I got in. I cried a river of tears in that car. And for a ridiculously long time I held onto a bag of peanut M&Ms he’d left there.

But I would have cried a river of tears in any car. Eventually the car became a comfort. And yes, I gave it back to my parents when I bought a new one. Please know that his parents value everything they have left of him, and they gave the car to you for safekeeping because you loved their son, too. Talk to them. Don’t just sell it or trade it in.

Anonymous 2

Useful, thank you, and heartbreaking.

Re: The Car:

Embrace that the car reminds you of your fiance. It’s a way to remain warm and close as you create a new life. It can be a space where you have permission to remember the good times and feel sad about his loss. If it turns out not to be therapeutic, then Carolyn’s advice is definitely the way to go.

Anonymous 3

Nice solution, thanks.

Carolyn:

Thank you so much. I’ve decided to give it another few months and see how I feel. If I am still at odds with the car, I will return it to his parents. Despite his early passing, the real gift here is how wonderful his parents were — and are — to me.

Also, for the young people out there, please make a will. Even the blank forms at office stores are better than nothing.

Anonymous

Said with painful authority, thank you — and, again, my condolences.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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