The first time that I was unwillingly forced to go through my husband’s belongings was shortly after his untimely death. Amidst my brutal weeping and frazzled state of shock, the hospital staff nudged me to proceed forward with preparations as they needed the room. We had lived for 2 ½ months in the hospital. As a result, we had brought many reminders of home along with us; plus, accumulated numerous odds and ends.
In between going back and forth and kissing my husband’s cancer ravaged face, re-checking his pulse, watching if his eyes might magically peek open and lovingly look at me again, I rummaged through the possessions. As I gulped and gasped for air, I knew that I wanted everything that tangibly touched his body, no matter how insignificant. Yes, I even wanted his face masks, his unused vomit bags, his toothbrush, etc…I simply could not part with or even process leaving anything behind.
The weeks that followed were a surreal, hollowed daze. Our oldest daughter had to even remind me to take a shower. One day as I was going through the trance of attempting to make dinner for my youngest, it dawned on me that I had not cleaned out the refrigerator for months as I had been at the hospital around the clock. Entrenched, deep-rooted emotions, as I had to be strong for so long, flooded my being as I reached for my husband’s special mustard bottle. I realized that I would never be buying this certain type of mustard again. (My youngest has 9 allergies as well as myself, so we have to purchase separate food items.) I slumped to the floor, holding on to that mustard bottle for dear life, as if it were my beloved husband.
Meanwhile, as I was striving to survive and somehow navigate this unknown, I heard every possible question and opinions. When are you going to sort through his things? You need to get rid of his belongings. It isn’t normal to hold on to his possessions. You should donate them to a worthy cause, etc…
My head was spinning. I needed to harness and stifle the voices. As my annoying need to have resolution and closure for self-preservation crept in, I began to make a plan. I would tackle one sorting project a week. Well, that didn’t happen, even with my best of intentions. Clashing, unseen knives ripped at my insides. I knew I wasn’t emotionally, spiritually or physically ready. As time passed, I learned that I needed to wait for the pivotal “aha” moments; when the timing was right.
Not long after, as I was getting my daughters shoes out of the closet, I felt a compelling urge to sort. So, I attempted to package up David’s shoes. Tears cascaded down my cheeks as I held each pair to my chest. Subsequently, a gentle, God-given, melodic song, one that I used to teach my children’s choirs rang out in my head, softening the pain- Beautiful Feet, by Sandi Patty. As I sang the song, cherished, vaulted memories came flooding back to my soul; all spurred on by something non-valuable and silly…shoes! Holding David’s work shoes, I recalled how after 24 years, my heart still skipped beats in excitement upon hearing his footsteps on our back porch as he returned home from work. He always carried such beautiful, good news!
As I picked up his slippers, I remembered how I would give him a foot massage each evening. This simple deed was so profound and fostering. As I put his other pairs of shoes into the bag, I floated back to when they were purchased, our conversations that pertained to buying each one, and all the special and daily occasions that he wore them to. Crinkled up in the back of the closet was a pair of blue, hospital booties. My hands shook as I picked them up, such a haunting echo of his hospital days. The day before he unknowingly passed away, I gave him his last foot massage. I even teased him doing, “This Little Piggy” with his toes…hoping to put a smile on his handsome face.
Eventually, I decided to use these sorting activities as a celebration and memorandum to honor my husband. As I went through his clothes, I took photos and wrote down details and treasured memories about each item. Embracing each garment, I praised and thanked God for allowing me the grand privilege to be married to him. I donated a portion of his clothes and the others are stored away in my basement until I am ready to let them go. I still have various things to go through and when I innately and organically feel the need, I will.
Please, from one widow friend to another, allow yourself to adapt, be flexible, no one is completely versed in handling grief and all the duties that follow. We are all nomads when it comes to sorrow. However, the one common, reigning denominator is to be easy on ourselves. I had to learn to bask in the knowledge that I alone know what I need and require for therapeutic healing. If I wallow, if I meander…it is okay. When I decide to sort through the remainder of my husband’s belongings and whether I store them or donate them, it will be in my own time frame. As always, you are welcome to comment and or share.
With Grace and Peace to You,
Lisa Dempsey Bargewell
My blog topic for next Wednesday: Happy Thoughts Amidst the Grief