I dropped a handful of Todd’s socks from his sock drawer on the bed, tears welling in my eyes. I tried not to think about what I was doing or why. My sister in law had asked me weeks ago for some of Todd’s shorts for her resident, and I’d been procrastinating. So yesterday, pretending to be productive, I put a plastic garbage bag on a chair in the bedroom. I ignored it until my brother in law dropped in today, his presence making me feel like I should be busy.

I wasn’t sorting through Todd’s clothes just for my sister in law. I’ve been aware that I’d need to pack them up at some time, and the smallish sock drawer seemed an easy place to start. I fetched a second bag for Goodwill/Salvation Army. The few loose socks I matched up and then stuffed them all into the plastic bag. I set aside a few pairs of wool socks to keep for myself for winter.

Just keep going

I can do this, I thought. He doesn’t need all of these socks. (He’s not coming home….Stop thinking, Sue, and just do it.) Next: underwear drawer. Easier. Just put them all in the bag, right? Nope, I sorted and folded them neatly. I also noticed the pair I had bought him for disc golf (his “special underwear,” he’d called them–to prevent chafing on hot days) were missing. (I imagined where they might be—maybe in the camper? disc golf cart? Does Goodwill even accept underwear?)

I wanted to stop after the two smallest drawers, but remembering my sister in law’s request for shorts, I kept going. I tackled larger drawers with shorts and tee shirts and then a storage box labeled “summer clothes” entirely of tee shirts. The man was a clothes horse.

I made a pile of tees for keepers and put a few tees in the bag with the shorts, but 5 shirts in I decided they were all keepers. They still smelled like him. I’ll have them made into quilts for his daughter and me, I decided, and folded them all neatly back into the box.

Next, the closet: I added his new black Levi’s—worn only twice—into the bag along with several dress shirts and pants. I left a few of his favorite plaid shirts in the closet, why I don’t know, but I can’t give them away right now. His unworn funky turquoise Levi’s bought on sale and kept for when his waist would once again be a 36 are in another closet with more of his clothes. They’ll wait for another day. The bedroom was all I could do today: a major feat.

His shoes remain in the closet and his toothbrush will stay in its cup by the bathroom sink. I can’t give them away or throw it out—not today.

Here’s the hard part

I finally let myself sob in the truck after I left the bag of shorts at my sister in law’s house.

I never imagined how difficult going through his clothes would be, although I must have suspected because I’ve refused to do it for 7 months. I’ve also declined others’ offers to help me, and I’m glad I did. This was an incredibly intimate act. Although their offers were well intended, I needed this time with Todd’s things to be undistracted and as drawn out as I felt necessary.

My brain tells me Todd doesn’t need these clothes anymore. He’s dressed in his favorite brown Carhart overalls and a black zippered hoodie and a blue tee and his hiking boots. In the end, that’s all he’d needed. Yet, my brain also tells me if he comes home, he might need his shoes, his toothbrush, his Hold Steady tee shirt. He’ll be mad I gave away his red longjohns with the convenient button butt-flap.

This is the weird effect that a loved one’s death can have on a sane person that Joan Didion writes of in The Year of Magical Thinking. She also writes, “I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.”

Seven months have passed since I lost my dear Todd, and my brain continues to function a little magically. But, I’m okay with this. I’m beginning to be able to let go of his physical presence gradually while holding tight to what he left with me that isn’t material. And, today I was able at least to give some shorts to someone in need.

About 

Sue Leathers is an English teacher and mother of two adult daughters. She lost her husband in October 2017 to a sudden massive heart attack, which sent her on a journey to rediscover herself and a direction for her life. She has found solace in reading of other widows’ experiences and in writing of her own journey, and hopes to help other widows not feel alone.

Sue can be found on Instagram: @susanjanie