grief and memories

In 1997, my husband created a logo. I was working for a man who owned a small business, and the company was developing into a formidable competitor on the market. My teenage son worked there with me, and he had just convinced the boss that we needed one of these newfangled things called websites – and had developed one showcasing our products and services. At the time, Rick and I had been together a year, and he was working in the communications department of a major union. He had won several layout and design awards for his newsletters and knew a lot about corporate identities, and one night, he took it upon himself to create a logo. The boss loved it, so it was added to the new website and product packaging, and there it remained until today.

Four years ago, our small company was purchased by a large organization. The logo was adapted slightly by adding a small line at the bottom with the new organization’s name, but, otherwise, it was the same as when Rick created it more than twenty years ago. However, last month, at a departmental meeting, it was announced that our original company’s identity was being completely swallowed up by the large organization. Beginning next month, the old company logo is being replaced and removed from all our products.

Very few of those present knew the history of the logo, and I’m sure they also weren’t aware that this news saddened me. I thought, there goes another piece of Rick, his legacy, his mark on the world. And I swallowed the temptation to cry as business continued to be discussed around me.

And the more I contemplate this, the more I realize how hard I’ve tried to keep Rick alive by retaining some of his physical “stuff”: the clothes, the collectibles, the things he last touched, the things he created. And little by little, as time passes, it’s become more difficult to do.

The sheets he slept on had to be changed. The items he left casually on his bedside table had a year’s worth of dust gathered on top and needed to be cleaned up. The sand in the car from his beach shoes on our last vacation is still there, but the car itself is a lease that I have to turn in next month. Yes, the car he selected and drove on his many days of wandering – wandering was so “him” – that car must be replaced. The last food items he purchased have gone rotten or became too old to consume. His Apple Watch stopped working and instead of repairing it, the company sent a replacement that never touched his skin, had never been near his living body, so it lost much of its meaning. I kept his phone active because it’s filled with his favorite apps, his games, his e-books and music, but in the past eleven months since his death, the monthly fees are adding up to a ridiculous cost. I need to face to the fact that I have to cancel and return the phone to Sprint.

One by one, the things he touched – the physical memorabilia – is dissipating before my eyes, because time goes on and I can’t stop it. And now this, the logo being “retired,” is just one more reminder of the futility of trying to hang onto Rick in the physical world. Even as I keep mementoes, I think – someday, I’ll probably move and leave the things he built and remodeled behind. Someday, this house will be gone. These things will have rotted and decayed. I, myself, will just be a memory. Why do I try to hang on to these physical things? It’s futile.

My grief counselor broached this subject early on in our counseling sessions. She said that, eventually, I will be able to release his physical “stuff” more. That I will realize the essence of Rick, his spirit, his memory, and all he meant to me will always be in my heart. It will live there, and it will not rot or wear out or get lost or destroyed. It will ALWAYS be there, and life and time cannot take that from me.

And when he first died, I got it. I knew what she meant logically, but his stuff was still too important. Touching his shirts still made me cry. Thinking about laundering the sheets where he had last lain was overwhelming. His skin touched these sheets! His warm, living body was right in this spot! I can’t do it! I can’t! But I did. Eventually, I did see the futility of trying to keep a man’s memory alive through a bedsheet. It can’t be done. He’s gone forever. The sheet didn’t help alleviate the pain of his loss. The sheet needed to be laundered.

And so, a month after his death, I stripped the bed and washed the sheets. A few weeks ago, I cleared the bedside table of his last water bottle and wiped it clean. The watch was replaced by a working model. The sand in the back of the car will be returned right along with the car when I end the lease next month. His guitar, and shoes, and coats have been given away. His socks and underwear have been discarded.

And the logo will be retired next month. The logo he created. A sample of his design skills. Evidence of his talent. Physical proof that he was here. One more tangible reminder – one more piece of physical evidence that a man named Rick Palmer existed – will be gone.

Sadly, the websites he created for our clients are also slowly disappearing. One afternoon, exactly a week before his death, Rick was in his office updating a site. By then, the doctors were unable to solve the riddle of why he was continued to weaken, why his pneumonitis couldn’t be cured. He was often in pain, but he got up every day, and was still trying to keep up appearances of his normal life, for me, for himself, to give us both some hope of normalcy returning and life continuing on in the blissful way it had before the diagnosis ten months before. Rick had never been one to sit around licking his wounds, although God knows, he had been fighting valiantly for some time, and I would have given up long before he did. But that afternoon, one week before his death, he worked on some website updates for a little while, then called me to join him in bed where he lay quietly, pondering something. Finally, he said, “Honey, I think we need to close the business. I’m not sure how long I’m going to live.”

I protested, not because I wanted him to keep working or worrying about the business or any of that. I protested because I didn’t want to hear him giving up. I didn’t want to focus on all that meant. I didn’t want to admit that he was truly going to die. I said I’d make a report of all our clients and we could talk more about what to do next. We never had a chance to have that discussion.

And since his death, I’ve been desperate to keep the business going, not for the income, but because it was ours – it was HIS. He loved design. It was his life. He had the idea of forming a web design business in 2002 so he could work doing something he loved one day after he retired. When he was offered an early retirement at age 55, he took it and developed his “side business” into a thriving company with up to 50 clients at one time. My role had been to take care of the technical aspects of the business – setting up clients on the server, transferring websites, updating plugins, invoicing, and all that – but the bulk of the business was all Rick: he found and met with new clients, worked out their needs, and then put it all together into his beautiful, modern designs. He took photos and wrote all the content, too – it was part of our complete package. And the thought of those sites coming down, the idea that they wouldn’t be forever on the internet as a testament to his talent and hard work was frightening to me, so I kept at it. But little by little, I’ve had to relinquish the reins. I’ve cut the client list in half. I’ve ended the relationship with clients who required too many updates for me to keep up while performing my full-time day job. And other clients closed their doors – and their sites – because life goes on, and businesses go out of business. And as I cancel each account, and remove each site, a little part of me feels the pain and the fear that, each time I do, a part of him is being lost forever.

For the past eleven months, I’ve sorted Rick’s things. I’ve clung to his possessions. I’ve worked on his projects. I’ve tried to maintain our web business – all in his memory. But I know it’s a vain attempt to make time stand still. And does it matter? Will Rick’s memory disappear without physical proof that he was here?

Week by week, I’m forced to accept the futility of attempting to keep him alive by surrounding myself with physical reminders, or by desperately clinging to the things he created. And those things are slowly beginning to disappear, or wear out, or fade. Some things I’ve relinquished by choice, but often, I have no say in the matter. It’s still not easy, but it’s something that cannot be avoided. Time marches on.

But despite the fact that Rick’s possessions and projects and designs are steadily dwindling away, Rick did exist, and he left his legacy through his children, grandchildren, family, and friends. Rick left each of us with years and years of wonderful memories, years and years of love and laughter.

And, in the end, I know my counselor was right. As years go on, trying to keep the physical memorabilia is a futile endeavor. Rick left the imprint of his love on my heart forever, where it will never fade.

So, despite the sadness, I know I can and must loosen my grasp on the physical evidence of his existence. I know I have no choice. But, I do have one more option to keep Rick alive. I’ll keep on writing his story. I’ll keep on saying his name, and I’ll do all I can to make sure he won’t die a second time.

 

About 

On August 13, 2017, I lost the love of my life. Rick Palmer and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary one month before he died at age 63 of complications from treatments for small cell lung cancer. He was my partner and soulmate, the love I had been looking for and finally found at age 40.

Rick was a talented writer and web designer and, in 2002, we began our own web and print design business. We worked together building the business and enjoyed traveling, writing, and playing together. Our dream was to spend our golden years together doing more of the same, but in the ten months from diagnosis to death, that dream shattered.

After Rick’s death, I quickly realized that the enormity of his loss was too much for me to handle on my own, so I began grief therapy. I also began writing through my grief in a journal of feelings, thoughts, memories, and poetry. As I navigate my new life alone, I share my journey and my efforts towards creating my “new normal” on my personal blog: The Writing Widow. I’m also on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.