Friday, June 29, 2012

Yes, Her Clothes Are Still In Our, uh... MY Closet

(James, Maggie, and Mark Ludwig at one of our wine parties, Dec 2003.)

My friend Mark Ludwig died on June 27, 2004, just a few months after Maggie and I got married.  He was killed unexpectedly in an auto accident that wasn’t his fault.  He was the nicest, most engaging, friendliest guy you’d ever meet.  I was proud to call him one of my closest friends.  Lots of people were.  Just like Maggie, he had a LOT of close friends.  Just like Maggie, he was the glue that kept many different groups of people together.  He was the social center.  His death marked the end of an era.  It was truly a tragedy.

When Mark died, I got to witness first hand how vicious, greedy, callous, and shallow people could be, people whom I thought I knew well – very well.  Mark, like most of us back in those glory days, had lots of toys: big TVs, a pool table, extra refrigerators, a big fancy gas grill – all these things were now declared homeless.  But people weren’t shy about laying claim to them.  In fact, they came out of the woodworks with greed in their eyes while not being afraid of using shifty measures to acquire things they suddenly deemed theirs.  Since Mark didn’t have a significant other, there was no one who really could have spoken for Mark.  It was a disgusting free-for-all.  It was nasty.

There was name-calling, accusations, theft, and flat out warfare tactics.  At one point, two girls locked themselves into Mark’s house (that he owned) and decided it was their job to go through all of Mark’s personal possessions and divide things up as they saw fit.

Months prior, Mark had borrowed from me a pressure washer that Maggie had given me for Christmas.  While it wasn’t fancy or new or expensive, I loved that power washer.  But Mark needed it to clean off something to prep for one of his parties (one of many that I attended) so I was happy to lend it to him.

I had heard about the two girls who had taken over sorting through his stuff so I went over to his house to retrieve my power washer.  After I rang the doorbell, one of the aforementioned girls answered the door, but just barely cracked it open so she could poke her head out.  Seeing the look on her face and feeling her attitude when I asked about the power washer, I turned around and never looked back again.  I never saw that power washer again.

Later I heard that things were way worse than what I saw.  Some people even laid claim to the money Mark had in his bank account.  I said, “Laid claim.”  I meant, “Demanded.”  It was ugly, nasty and I vowed to never be a part of any of that, even if it meant that I’d have to sacrifice something that I really cared about to avoid being a part of a nasty experience at the end of someone’s wonderful life.  As difficult as it may be, I’ll never willingly let stink trump beauty.  Call it ideology.

I’ve never forgotten the terrible lack of humanity and the overabundance of selfishness that I saw during those difficult days.  I was scarred.  It was hard enough living through the shock of the sudden loss of a best friend but to watch vicious vultures gnaw at the remains of what was once a huge life being lived by a wonderful man - it crushed my soul.

Five years later, Maggie died.

Maybe I’m oversensitive.  Because of what I saw, I have an enormous minefield built up around her clothes, her shoes, and her jewelry.  It’s bigger and more explosive than you can even imagine.  The mental picture of people treating her treasures like a rummage sale boils my blood beyond reasonableness. But I can't keep her stuff around here forever.  Maybe I just don’t know how to merge appropriate homage with practicality.

These aren’t nice shoes that you might like to wear one day with that little slinky outfit you bought.  These are the shoes Maggie wore on our third date.  This is the dress that she wore to San Angelo to meet my family.  These are the jeans she paraded around the house wearing, beaming because she knew that I knew that she knew she looked fantastic.  These “wardrobe additions” or “estate sale bargains” are some of my life’s fondest moments.  There’s no haggling on the price, if they were even for sale!

These are also anchors to my past, a past I’m hesitant to let go of, a glorious past that I’m still mourning the loss of.  Despite my absolute, genuine, totally committed, and even enthusiastic anticipation of moving forward and living a grand life after Maggie, it's not any easier to drop off my favorite miniskirt of hers at Goodwill.  Or her favorite pair of flip-flops.  Or her fancy heals that she loved to wear that made her about an inch and a half taller than me.

So it all sits.  The shoes sit in boxes in the foyer.  The clothes still hang on her side of the closet.  And I struggle with what to do.  I’m definitely ready to do something but I cannot allow a feeding frenzy to take place.  Such a display would sicken me beyond any recoverable point and bitter me to anyone who participated.  At the same time, that closet is filled with thousands of dollars worth of clothes, maybe tens of thousands.  I'd feel a fool to just give it all away.  I don't know what to do.  So it all sits.  And I feel like a fool.

But I’m not a fool who gives up.  It may take another month, or maybe another year, but one day I’ll do what needs to be done.  I’ll keep pushing myself to move forward.  Maybe that sacrificed power washer served more purpose than I realized.  Maybe it set a standard for what is truly important – the stuff, or the life around the stuff.

Hmm….  maybe Maggie’s clothes really aren’t that important any more.


  1. a thought, fwiw -

  2. Chris, I am with you. But here is something that I have been doing since my husband’s death. First I gave away things that were husbands to family and friends who could appreciate the object, because it was a hobby or interest they shared together. One of my husband’s best friends, his brother in law, got a dress watch, because as a business man he could wear it daily and think of my husband. Another got his everyday watch, because he is a woodworker like my husband. The fancy watch would not work for him. A friend got the model sailboat and the equipment, since they shared many hours together “playing” with their boats. Many books he had collected on WWII went to a museum he loved to visit on the subject. A coworker’s nephew with no money got his old truck, on his birthday, which he shared with my husband. I did not know this until after I decided to do them, found out it was his birthday, too. The day he decided to pick it up! How’s that for a sign I am doing the right thing. I have been working on this for the last three years, slow but it has been good since it allows me time to think about what I want to keep as well as what my daughter’s might want in the future. But of course some things will never go.

  3. I never comment, just lurk, but this post, I kept coming back to. I couldn't bear to clean out my mom's closet. I could remember every day we'd shopped for a particular item. When she'd worn it. What we'd done. There was very little I could use. Giving it to wasn't enough for her wardrobe.(Enough not being quite the right word but please bear with me). Finally, I remembered the Christmas' years past when we would adopt a family at a domestic abuse shelter through my Dad's then work. The way my mom and I would go shopping for perfect gifts for the mom and children who had nothing, who had left scary situations just for a chance at being safe. Sure enough, a little calling revealed that not only domestic abuse shelters, but even our local police department were in desperate need of clothes for woman in horrible situations. And, that was a place I could see my mom's gorgeous wardrobe peacefully going. So, the moral of the story is: You'll find the place and when you do it will feel right.


    1. Thanks for posting, Chris. And good ideas, all of them.

      Maggie was an active volunteer for the local children's shelter which is related to Safe House that takes in women (and children) escaping from abusive relationships. There I've dropped off about five or so tear-dripped boxes of stuff. The poor lady who accepted the boxes probably didn't know what to say when fell apart when she asked if I needed a receipt.

  4. Chris, your post hit home with me. First, I can relate to what happened to your friend's belongings as I too have witnessed the greed and the great decension of the haults circling around and landing to take the "toys". It is pure greed and so very sad.

    Secondly, I too wonder what I should do with my husband's favorite golf shirts, or the hilarious boxer shorts I bought him for Christmas one year or the very, worn tattered sweat shirt he wore around the house in the winter time and the list goes on. These items mark the milestones of my life with him, and I can't stomach the thought of randomly dropping them at Goodwill. My sense is I will know when and what to do with them when the time is right.

    Hopefully, our gut feel will guide us. Thank you!!!!

    1. The personal stuff is definitely the hardest. Someone made a great suggestion that I haven't followed up on yet: get a cedar chest and put into it the really special items in there. That can be their new home for as long as the heart holds them dear.

  5. Chris, I, too, after 3 years have retained most of my husband's clothing. I did give some winter wear (coats, hats, gloves, etc.) to a custodian who worked in a building I frequented after seeing him riding his bike to work in very cold weather with lack of proper covering. It made me feel good when I did so, but when I actually saw him wearing the clothes it was a meltdown-moment. But I am still glad that I did it. Concerning your wife's clothing and accessories, may I suggest a donation to DRESS FOR SUCCESS ( It is a not-for-profit organization that provides clothing/outfits for women who have job interviews scheduled but lack the resources to purchase appropriate attire. If they procure the job, they then can return and are provided with a few more items to get them started until they have income to make necessary purchases. It is all by referral and they are professionally guided in their selections. Nationwide locations are listed on the website. As for personal items of value and sentiment (jewelry, for example) you may want to keep that as one day you may have a family member (niece, cousin, or perhaps even a daughter) who you could pass these things on to with the knowledge that they will once again wear and treasure these items just as your beloved wife once did. Wishing you comfort and peace as you make your decisions. Tiffany

    1. Three years goes so slow... and so quickly all at the same time. I'm at 3 years and 2 months.

      Thanks for the suggestions.

  6. Ah, yes, the "stuff". His/now mine still sits also, although I have purged a little, mostly items that had no significance. The favorites still hang, no monetary value in flannel shirts, I just like to see them there, a reminder of what once was. I know others who cleared it all out in days after a death. I'm with you in taking time.

    You can always find a resale shop for nice items, but then you might see someone on the street in them. As to the vultures who went through your friends things...obviously, they have not lost someone close to them. Hopefully they will realize what they did someday, and have second thoughts the next time. Again, it is only material things, we can't take them with us, they will not even matter someday. Let that power washer go, you can borrow mine if you need one. It hasn't been used in 2 1/2 years, but I'm looking at getting it out soon, time to clean the deck.

    And, by the way, you are no fool. Take your time, many memories are in that stuff, they will all surface as you go through it. I'm thinking it'll take another few years to get through my closets.

  7. I am new to this site. It has helped me to get through this latest rough patch. When my husband passed away in 2009 I to struggled with what to do with my favorite pieces of clothing. I found a wonderful lady through a local quilting quild that took our "favorites" and turned them into 4 quilts. I have since learned of there our sites that can make these items into memory bears we can share with our children and grandchildren. You just need to type memory bears into a google search. I love my quilt, I can wrap it around me when I am feeling down and I can leave it out to see everyday.
    It's so hard moving forward I wish you peace in your final decision.

    1. Memory bear. What a beautiful concept. I think it might be a little harder for a guy though. Maybe a memory shop rag? That doesn't seem to have the same... emotional content. But that's an interesting direction I hadn't thought of. Thank you.

  8. Each in their own time. "nun ya!" to anyone that stands in judgement! As in " none of your business."

    My own, dear husband took it upon himself to gift his hobbie things to friends, family and loved ones. It was a gift to them and me. He got the chance to tell them how special they were to him.

    The few things that I was left to handle we're sorted with a hard eye. I had done intake of material donations at a home for young women who would be giving their babies for adoption. We got junk, trash, totally inappropriate things, stained, torn, and abused things. I sorted it for proper use. I brought that experience into my giving. All the new socks and skivvies that had been bought for him to go back to work with (we thought the cancer was gone before his BMT), went to a homeless shelter. Gently used clothes went to a clothing closet. If he shouldn't have been wearing it, it went out with the garbage. No, it did not go to a place that would sell it for rags.

    When I give quilts, I give my best work, to family, charity or anyone. There are some things that are not "good enough." giving, in my opinion, should be of one's best.

    Blessings to all that walk this journey. Each in our own time.

    I do wonder if your friend did not have family who should have had right of first refusal on anything he left.

    The widow B

  9. My son and grandsons moved in with me eight weeks after my husband died - by necessity, not by choice! I had to go through my husband's stuff sooner than I wanted to, because the boys needed his office for their bedroom.

    My advice is to start small, maybe just go through certain things and stop. Don't try to do it all at once. It's OK to have the memories wash over you, it's OK to cry as you touch those precious things. If you're an introvert, like me, then you'll probably want to be alone. But if you're more extroverted, then have a friend help you if you feel you'll be overwhelmed.

    Set up your piles - throw (yes, you will throw stuff away, believe it or not!), keep, and donate/sell. Do a little at a time. You might find yourself moving out more of her stuff than you think.

    I keep my husband's most special stuff in a tub. I don't open the tub very often, because he comes flying out and those memories are way too much.

    I know when I die, my son will certainly not keep all of my husband's precious things, I'm sure that tub will end up in a dumpster! What's precious to me is not precious to him. :-) It's all a matter of perspective.

    Finally, I think you'll find as you move further away from your wife's death, that it's not her stuff that's important, it's her memory, her love for you, and your life together that will be carried with you when you die, not her stuff. Does that make sense?

    I'm sure when you're ready to go through her possessions, you'll find a way that works for you.

  10. I too took the best things that family didn't want to our local Veteran's home. I kept the flannel shirts and old t shirts to keep for myself and maybe someday can cut them up for a quilt or teddy bear. I hope to someday to have grandchildren who might appreciate a teddy even if I am the only one who knows they are cuddling with a piece of something from grandpa. I like setting goals and to-do lists and tried to do something each week. Returning medical equipment, donating unused supplies to a free clinic, cleaning out the garage etc. All things that I hadn't had time to deal with during the lingering illness. I think it helped me move forward but each of us has to find our own way to get out of the black.

  11. Chris, I so understand what you're saying. My spouse of 53 years died two years ago and I am still dealing with the grief that blindsides me at unexpected times. For me, it was difficult to give away his clothes, shoes, etc, but seeing them in his closet was more than I could bear because they gave the impression that he would be back. My church has a clothes closet for those who are on hard times and cannot afford clothing for themselves or their children. My daughter loaded everything except for a few pieces that meant a lot to me and drove them to the church for me. I have a happy heart knowing someone who needed nice clothes got them for nothing. I was told, via the grapevine, that one man, who had been unable to find work, had suited up and gotten a job wearing Jim's clothes. Blessings. Sandy Keith

  12. Chris,

    It has been 4 yrs 4 months since the sudden and unexpected death of my husband. I currently have a spare room closet filled with some of his clothes, his dresser has 4 of the 5 drawers with his stuff in it. I was able months ago to clean out one of those drawers in order to make room for my sweaters. I just haven't been able to move on with touching the other 4 drawers. All of his other clothing and shoes are in totes in the garage. I know I will know when I can decide and move on with dealing with those things again. I have come along in small steps thus far. There is also the idea of gathering your most memorable items of your spouses clothing and having a quilt made from their clothing. This is a thought of mine, but I haven't pursued it yet. Thank you for posting about dealing with this part of this emotional journey.

  13. Chris,

    My precious wife died on April 1st of this year. Like many women, she had a lot of clothes. I am working through them slowly. The clothes which had tags on them went to a good consignment store. The money I get from those sales will go to my wife's memorial scholarship fund. For her business wear, I gave almost all of her purses, shoes, new stockings, suits, blouses, etc. to my local Dress for Success. My wife believed strongly in the importance of a professional attitude at work and that starts with your attire. It is so hard to get a job these days. Even when interviewing for a polo/khakis type job, the HR folks expect you to show up in a suit. This expense can keep some women from finding a job to support their families. I know that my wife would approve of her clothes helping someone begin a new career. That way, she continues to help people. Unlike Goodwill, these women need these clothes, they do not merely want them.

    I have kept a lot of the sentimental clothes for myself. They are the ones that appear in favorite pictures or items she wore until they were destroyed. But, she kept them, so I will as well. As for the rest, I am looking for good homes. If you have a local St. Vincent DePaul Society, you might consider them as well.

    It is important to match the season to your donations. For example, do not donate summer clothing now. That season is almost past (hard as that is to believe). In August & September, the resale stores (including goodwill) will be looking for fall and possibly winter. Clothes that are off-season are sold by resale stores to what are essentially rag merchants. That is not what you want.

    Since My wife was an accountant, I did itemize everything (and took pictures) for the tax man. This is one more way I can keep my promise to honor her, "all the days of my life."

    Remember that your wife made the clothes beautiful, not the other way around.

    I wish you peace.

    p.s. You will not get much from selling clothes at a consignment shop. What is important is that you find a worthy cause for whatever you do get. Small amounts can make a big difference to someone.

  14. I felt the same way. I could not bear to sell my husband's clothes for pennies, I could not bear to see them on his friends, so I gave them to a homeless group and never looked back. Do it in your own time. I felt less pain once they were gone and I no longer got the pain I felt whenever I saw them. Good Luck!

  15. Thank you for sharing this. I lost my husband 4 months ago and his family expects my husbands things "right now" and acts as if nothing is special. I was married to my best friend for 17 years and it makes me sad and sick to touch anything. I feel like I know have voltures flying around my house. I wish that everyone could take a step back and just breathe. It's hard enough to get out of bed....

  16. I happened upon this conversation at the perfect time. My husband of 28 years died 14 months ago. The manner in which I have dealt with his belongings has been little bits at a time...and each time I gave things away, the timing seemed perfect. Rawley loved good quality sunglasses and had about 12 pair! I gave a pair to all of the last few friends who remained at my house after the funeral and memorial reception. We took a photo of all of us wearing his sunglasses. That photo is now represents a cherished memory! On Rawley's birthday, which was a month after he died, I rented a house at a nearby beach town (a beach he adored) and invited about 16 of his closest friends and his sister. I loaded up my car with as many of his flannel and Pendleton shirts I could carry and told the friends to take the one they liked. We all walked down to the beach wearing the shirts and, again, took a group photo. Everyone took a small pinch of his ashes and tossed them into the water. It was a powerful moment, and one filled with strong emotion amid the solace of the company of loved ones. At Christmastime I brought more shirts (he had a closet full) and let my nephews and brothers-in-law choose what they wanted. I also gave several large bags of clothes to the inner-city middle school where he taught for 25 years. I have passed his clothes on in a similar fashion on several other occasions. I still cry and am blindsighted by grief when I pull things out of the closet. I often find mementos of things we did together in the pockets - ticket stubs, handwritten notes, receipts. It's still just as hard, over a year later.

    Today I am bringing his dress clothes (he didn't own that many!) to Image for Success. And although it is still very difficult to let go of his clothes and shoes, I know that they are going to go to good use rather than just sitting in the closet, reminding me that he is not coming back to wear them. So as someone said in a previous post, doing a little at time, in your own time seems best.

    Of course, I am keeping a good chunk of his clothes, and even wear some of them - sweatshirts, t-shirts, etc.

    Thank you all for your supportive messages. We're in a club not of our choosing.


  17. Chris,
    It's been just over a year sense I lost my husband and I still have almost everything right where he left it. I have given a few things away to our kids,and we have 9 Granddaughters that I'm giving teddy bears to with shirts on made out of shirts that their Grandpa had on in a picture with each of them. But I notice everything I do is to make sure my husband will be remembered. I was lucky not one person has asked for anything,they have allowed me the time I need and have been very pleased when I have chosen to give them something.Our memories are all we have, as for me I use the things that he held dear to make sure others remember him as I do. I've even had people give me things that my husband made for them with his own hands because they know how much it all means to me. Now that is how it should be when we lose someone we love all love. We should come together to honor their life not pick at what they left behind. I'm so sorry you had to see that with the loss of your friend.