Sunday, September 4, 2011

Clean, Fresh Landing

We're moving. 
September 16 the packers come.
September 17 they take it all and move it to our new digs.
I've been clearing out,
getting rid of stuff,
bumping into him.

On Thursday, the kids and I emptied out his closet.
He had his own closet.
It was such a tiny thing for such a big man. (6'6")
At four months, I got rid of all the clothes of his that
I didn't like
the ones on his side of the dresser.
In death, I rejoiced in the small pleasure of having extra space.

But the clothes I loved,
the clothes that meant something to me,
the ones I kept thinking that he would walk back into the house wearing,
those I kept.
A suit, his navy jacket,
the many favored t-shirts,
7 pairs of his size 14 shoes -- the black Chuck Taylors, the Kenneth Coles and the LL Bean slippers.
His smelly red cycling jacket,
his UVA cap and the shirt and tie my grandmother bought for him.
I kept them all,
trusting that "they" would be right,
I would know when it was time to shed his belongings.

"Tonight," I said to the kids,
"Tonigh we need to go through Daddy's clothes. You can each pick out a few pieces that I will put away for you but the rest will go to the Los Angeles Men's shelter downtown."

Just before we started, I warned "This may bring up a lot of feelings.  That's a good thing.  If you feel sad, it's good. If you don't, it's good.  Just remember, the grief will not hurt you permanently. I know you know this but I want to remind you that it will feel like the world is ending but it's not.  They are just feelings.  All feelings pass."  I used my most gently mom voice.

Then we go to work.
The result is his closet now looks like this.

A few days before, I was squatting in front of the black credenza by the front door. 
I peered in to see what was on the shelf.
And there it was.
His medical notebook.
The second notebook that detailed all his medical procedures,
drug cards with their omimous side effect warnings
everything is there except...
the fact that he was dying.

I go through the notebook, remembering names like adriamycin and neutrapenic. I find the tickets from the blood drive held at his school.  When I go into Cedars blood donation center a week after the drive, to collect those tickets, the head of the center stops me. "Who is Art Nagle?" My husband I said.  "Well he is one hell of man. In my 15 years of doing blood drives I have never seen such an outpouring of love. He's touched many people."

I'm holding those tickets in my hand now and smiling, remembering that in a way she saw more of him than I did.

Behind the tickets is a piece of paper.
It has his handwriting on it.
It is a list of all his symptoms before
we knew it was cancer.

I stare at the list
angry at our stupidity.
"Honey, just write down all your symptoms.  It'll be easier than trying to remember it."  I told him.
The list was from the second time he had cancer. I know this because he wrote "loose stools." A stoic man from Maine would never write "loose stools"  had he not already understood that in illness, your body is not yours.

I can't take my eyes off the list.
I read it over and over and over again.

As I lay it down in the keep pile,  I want to smack myself, to punch myself in the face for being so fucking stupid, for not recognizing the signs of the cancer ... again.  For not believing that lightening can strike twice. 

Like it would have helped.

Nothing helps. He's gone.  I'm here.
Even in our new place, I see that death has taken away my ability for a

There is no such thing.


  1. I feel you. I just started clearing though our office, which had become a black hole of cancer/get well/death/condolence paraphernalia. Bills, cards, books, reports.

    I was fortunate enough to have my sister here with me to got through it. But it was not easy, and in some ways it's like reliving bits and pieces all over again.

    Much love to you, Kim.

  2. Kim - This post broke my heart. I get it. I get it completely.
    The list. It was the list that did it.
    My husband had a brain tumour. I say nothing big happened to tell us it was coming until something BIG happened. Then it was immediate and emerg and the MRI and the REALLY BIG diagnosis - Glioblastoma.
    After he died, the little things came to me. . . the slight, very slight, almost imperceptible forgetfulness, the way he paused for three or four seconds instead of the one or two, the occasional outbursts of anger that I saw as stress, the morning headaches that became a bit more frequent (hadn't had his coffee yet) -
    When it all came down, these small fucking little pieces of nothing that were nothing until all of a sudden they were something, yes I too wanted to punch myself in the head. I wanted to stick a knife in my gut and leave it there. How could I not see what was in front of me? But I didn't. He worked out every day, he was fit, he was funny and with it and there was nothing big to say "look here a brain tumour is going to kill your love". I never asked him if he had other symptoms that he didn't tell me about. I wonder all of the time. After he was diagnosed there was no point and I didn't want him to feel that he was somehow responsible. His doctors said it was there for a year, maybe two or three. It is the insidiousness of this kind of cancer, this fucking brain tumour that took his life.
    Thank you for saying - nothing helps he is gone and I am here.
    I needed to hear that. I can't change one thing about his dying. I can only try to remember the beautiful life we had.
    I love the way you gave your kids permission to feel what they would feel, no obligation to feel sad or any way in particular.
    Incredible wisdom for all of us.

  3. Kim, what a great post. Ironic that I decided this weekend I really needed to go through my husbands things. I told myself I would have this done before 18 months out and I still couldn't complete the entire job. Like you, I gave away all the things that carried little meaning early on. But I couldn't bear to part with the golf shirts, shorts he wore to cut the grass, favorite t-shirts, etc.

    Fortunately, I am not planning on moving anytime soon, so I guess I can wait a little longer to part with those "special" things.

    Good luck to you and your family!

  4. Thank you for the post. This weekend I parted with all the cards of special occasions my late husband had saved over the years. I savored them all and tried to recapture his joy and then said goodbye.
    He is no longer here to treasure them. I treasure cards, etc., received from him and always will.
    It is almost one year and six months now--and still I feel him everywhere even though a lot of his belongings have been given away. It's that we lived together in our home that was so much a part of him--every room has his touch and presence and makes me recall this wonderful man. I get it and where you are coming from.... Not easy and I don't think it will be different when I move someday but hopefully will be easier.
    Please let us know how you do, Kim. We're rooting for you and your family!!

  5. A few minutes ago I wrote a lengthy post here, but lost it in the editing. Long story short, don't blame yourselves for not picking up on symptoms. More than likely it would not have changed the outcome. Especially in brain diseases, the person being affected would not be able to express it to you, because the brain adapts itself and the healthy parts take over for the diseased parts. The very fact that a person can survive and function for so long after the tumor/disease has invaded is a testament to human survival. Bless you all, that's the short version, I went through alot too with my husband. Blessings.

  6. Kim, how aptly put "bumping into him". My husband built our house, I bump into him all the time. And I don't know how I'll ever be able to move out, his presence is in every room, every detail. When you come down to it, it is just "stuff", and sooner or later we all need to let go of it. I guess we'll all know when the time to let go and move on is right for us. You've taken that first step to do so, thanks for sharing your family's journey with us.