Friday, December 2, 2011

Immovable Objects vs The Business of Change

The Business of Change that I started back in mid-September continues on. There’s just so much stuff to go through and just so little willpower on my part. Despite all the difficult work packing her 118 pair of shoes into boxes, only one box has made it to a new home. (I remind myself that one is better than none – and even one is still a change.) That one box full of Adventures Not Taken was dropped off yesterday. I’m sure the nice lady at Safe Place found it odd that “Do you need a receipt?” was a reason to burst into tears. But I took the receipt, tried to drive straight and by the time I was half-way home I had stopped crying. That’s a real improvement.

Two weekends ago, I attacked a different part of the house, the back closet, where I uncovered landmines I didn’t expect. You’d think that things that have gone untouched (even unseen!) since Maggie and I moved into this big house would be way easier to sort through than, say, shoes. This was the closet where Maggie and I stuffed things we carried with us when we moved in but didn’t want to throw away. We’ve all got such a place filled with random stuff. Yes, you know the place.

Eventually it looked as though the closet had thrown up on the living room floor. I unpacked Halloween costumes from all the years we were together. I found her memory boxes full of newspaper articles she had saved, letters from old boyfriends, report cards, school reports, and even a picture portfolio from high school when she was trying to make it as a model. I even found the piece of paper on which I wrote her phone number for our first phone call and, just to the side of that, her address so I could pick her up for our first date. And this is just the stuff I saw. I didn’t dig but there a number of boxes I haven’t even opened yet.

Two things kicked me in the heart more than everything else that day. The first was an unusually large, unmarked white box that stuck out because of its size and the way it was carefully taped shut. Curious, I cut it open. Inside was a sealed plastic bag. Inside the sealed bag was a wedding dress. And in an instant, like a flash of insight, I also realized that the big bundle of frilly stuff I kept moving around the living room was her wedding headdress, complete with hair clip that I hadn’t even noticed until that very moment. Instant, painful clarity.

The second kick in the heart was in discovering the contents of a simple duffle bag. It definitely wasn’t something of mine. It was old but in very nice condition; it had obviously been well cared for. I pondered not opening it but I had to know what such a bag could possibly hold. After unzipping the zipper, I noticed two pink ribbons tied neatly in bows. The ribbons were carefully wrapped around a very soft, worn pink blanket that was rolled up perfectly into a neat roll. I couldn’t imagine what it could be. It was old but soft, fluffy and pink, kind of like the one someone would use as a …. A baby blanket, a very old baby blanket, I’d guess right around 36 years old.


As of today, the Halloween costumes are gone; I took them to Goodwill this morning. This past weekend, I threw away a full trashcan of nonsense stuff that, as I did, I wondered what the heck we were saving this crap for anyway. But still sitting in my living room are several boxes of papers, folder, trinkets and knick-knacks, most of which the significance is only known to Maggie. Most notably there sits one large, nondescript white box that’s been recently re-taped. Beside that sits an old, simple, well-kept duffle bag.

The Business of Change meets the immovable objects.


  1. As I read your blog my own emotions are stirring up. Kudos for your courage. I wish I had it, two years out and I still have everything, even the clothing in the closet. I have a garage packed with stuff, I still can't even stand to go out there, because most of it is his. It's hard to imagine giving it away, but I know someday I'll have to in the spirit of "moving forward." I think you have to arrive at a landmark of healing to do it, and I don't seem to be there. Just stuck, I guess. I was doing pretty good for awhile, even got through Thanksgiving OK, but with Christmas and New Years coming, I feel Mr. Grief hovering over me again like a cloud. Thanks for sharing and showing it's possible to move ahead. I'm sooo hoping my third year will snap me out of this limbo.

  2. Thanks Chris for showing me that this is possible. I could go on here but Anon #1 described exactly where I am after 21 months. I beat myself up everyday expecting that I should be so much farther along yet I feel stuck as well.

  3. This post brings me much comfort. I am bearing down on 6 months out right now and I mentioned to someone yesterday about my husband's watch, fire pager from his Fire Dept, and his pocket knife are all sitting on his bedstand where he left them the morning of his accident. The rest of the house remains the same, as if he is just walked out in the last few hours. The friend I was mentioning it to strongly suggested I put those type of 'reminders' away. I tried to explain the comfort they bring my little boy and I, that we appreciate the ever present reminders of the wonderful husband and father we both miss daily. It seems only those who have been through it already understand though. At this point, I don't expect anything will look any different even in 2 more years and that is ok by me. I'm confident I will know when the day arrives to change things.

  4. Chris,
    I cried with you when reading your post today. As you know, this job can only be done by you, others may help, but you have the final say so on whether to keep it or not (and then it probably will just go back in the closet). Yes, it is hard to go through and pick and choose what we want as reminders of the past life we had. I, too, still have clothes, tools, yearbooks, mementos, etc. I donate and pass off to family and friends, but there is always more "random stuff" lurking. I purge and then several months later, can go through and do the same closet again. It isn't any easier the second, or third, time around, but I have made some progress. It has also spurned me on to keeping less of my stuff; after moving my inlaws and parents out of houses they had for 50+ years, no one is going to have to do that for me.

    Anon, don't beat yourself up over this, it is not worth it. I feel stuck, too, I know in my heart I should be moving on, but it just isn't happening yet. I'm learning from other widows/widowers that there seems to be no set timetable, so I'm not trying to follow a schedule anymore. It will be what it is.

  5. I'm so sad for all of us. What a hideous burden to have to pack up a human life. The life of someone we loved so much. It feels like too much is being asked of us.

  6. Chris this is one of the hardest things to do. I have tried to give away my husband's things to people I know would appreciate it. I know what you mean about the little things bothering us, For me it was looking at the new workshop my husband never got to use- he dreamed of a new shop building small boats when he got better! He never got well enough. It always represents our dreams together that we never got to do! But after 1 year, at least I caan go down there and look at it without crying, but it is often the place I go when upset and I feel a need to talk to him.

  7. It's so sad that all we have left of them is their 'stuff'. Last year I had to go to Dave's school where he taught and clear out his desk. That was a part of his life that I was obviously less involved in and it felt so weird. There were things on his bulletin board like team photos that had so much more meaning to him than me. But he wasn't there to claim all those things.

    And so much of his stuff would have so much meaning for him. Stories to go along with them that he would be sharing if we were both going through them together. (He was a great storyteller.)

    I remember a month after he died pouring myself a glass of wine and walking into the garage to just look at all his stuff. His kayak & bike hanging from the ceiling. His golf clubs. So many tools. (And I still don't understand why we have so many extensions cords. I could circle the block with them!)

    It's been almost 18 months now. I have vowed to purge all his stuff (and a lot of mine) next spring/summer. I'm going to have a yard sale and the proceeds will go to the award I've created in his memory at his school.
    I would like to think that will make the task a little less painful, but somehow I think that won't be the case.

  8. You have described it exactly as I experience it. I had to do that two years ago when I sold our house and moved across the country. I did enough to make the move, then have not been able to go back to it. I can't find the energy to do the rest. Many people are nodding their heads and understanding this, Chris.