Giving Thanks for Dirty Laundry


This Thanksgiving I will be giving thanks for dirty laundry. For whatever random reason, the memory of encountering my husband’s dirty laundry just after he passed, came to mind earlier this month. Thanksgiving is such a complicated and bittersweet holiday as a widow. Each year I think, as I know you do – what on earth do I possibly have to give thanks for?

It’s painstakingly hard to count my blessings when the man I vowed to spend my life with departed at the age of twenty-seven. Seven Thanksgivings have come and gone without him and it’s hard to believe #8 is just about here. I’m remarried now, but that doesn’t make the upcoming holiday any easier. 

As the holiday has been approaching, I’ve continued to think about this memory. Finally a memory has surfaced that I will carry into the day that is on the lighter side of grief. It’s a big step in my widow journey. In all the previous years, my heart has not gone into this holiday “giving thanks”. The heart really is ready when it is ready. 

It’s not something you think you would ever be thankful for, but the dirty laundry I want to talk about was my husband’s. I’m not talking about metaphorical dirty laundry, just actual dirty laundry, stuffed half full in a hamper in the closet. I discovered this dirty laundry just days after he passed…


The Closet


The place where I found the most comfort crying my eyes out was sitting on the floor in my master closet. It was quiet there. Small. Safer than any other place in my apartment, or the world somehow, now that I was on my own. 

There were memories there, the “out of habit” memories of passing each other in the closet. Grabbing a shirt, some jeans, shoes, or a fast kiss as we dressed hurriedly for the day – it was routine. The dirty laundry in the hamper was just dirty laundry at that point. Those shared experiences played through my mind with a million others as I stared at his clothes hanging in the closet. Then, without thought, I realized I could hold him close through the form of his shirts. I wrapped my arms around as many of my husbands hanging shirts as I could while seated on the floor and balled for hours into those shirts. 

After the first few days of this ritual, my immediate surroundings were finally coming back into view. I looked across the closet and realized I didn’t do the dirty laundry on laundry day like I should have the day before he passed. 


The Discovery


Normally irked by that forgetfulness, my eyes filled with bittersweet tears.  I pulled myself off the floor and over to the “His and Hers” hampers of dirty laundry. As I looked at his hamper, half full of worn clothes staring me in the face, my heart leapt. It was such a treasured gift amidst the hell that had only begun days prior.

My newly widowed hand picked up a shirt and smelled it. It was John. That moment was completely indescribable. 

I was so worried in that moment of the dirty laundry discovery, that they wouldn’t smell like him. They had already been in there for a few days unnoticed. I panicked. The worn clothes would have been gift enough, but if “his” smell was there, it would be the most priceless, precious, momentary gift I had ever received. 

Slowly I pulled out a cotton t-shirt and held it to my nose. I inhaled. “His” scent was still there. That sweet Aqua Di Gio, Air Force fitness instructor/ vehicle operations, high school sweetheart and love of my life smell was still there. I thanked Jesus over and over.

It was as if my sweet hubby was right there, enveloping me in spirit, guiding my hand to this discovery like treasure on a map.

I picked up another shirt, smelled it and held it close to my heart. Next I held my face close inside the hamper and took in long breaths for hours. What can I say, widowhood makes you do strange things.


A Decision To Be Made


The temptation to pull out every shirt, pair of jeans, socks, boxers – everything and smell it all at once was huge. I weighed my options carefully. If I chose to pull them all out at once, the smell of the clothes would dissipate much more quickly. If I left them alone, his smell would be trapped longer in the layers of clothing that had not yet been disturbed. Never in my life had the fate of dirty laundry been such a monumental decision.

Days later I made my decision. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet. His death was sudden and I didn’t get to be there when he died. This I could have some say in.  I wanted to hold onto the smell of my living husband as long as I could. I decided I would pull out one article of clothing each day and savor it, for as long as that would last.


Giving Thanks for Dirty Laundry


Two weeks later the last article of clothing had been pulled from the hamper. No more dirty laundry. I held it closer than the others, if that was even possible, and smelled the last living remnant of John through that t-shirt. Gosh it was a brutal but beautiful moment. The grateful heart I had for that hamper of dirty laundry was as indescribable as the moment I smelled the first shirt.  

It was truly a bittersweet experience, pulling out an item of clothing each day and sitting with the memories and realities. That dirty laundry was the highlight of my day and what helped me through those first couple of weeks.

I gave thanks further as I noted how clean this dirty laundry was. I thought he must have had a less strenuous work week, because his clothes didn’t smell that dirty and sweaty at all. They smelled sweet. It was hard to believe that I had anything to be thankful for at all or ever again, but I really did.

I’m grateful this memory came to mind. His dirty laundry amounted to a hamper half full, and as corny as it is, I’m enjoying the “hamper half full” outlook going into this holiday. This will be new territory for me. While others are thinking about turkey, I will be giving thanks for dirty laundry. It has brought a smile to my face and heart amidst the gaping hole in my physical and spiritual heart that I still feel eight years later. 


Love and Hugs


My heart is with all of you, my dear widowed friends and readers, as this impossible holiday approaches. If you are struggling to figure out what to do with the upcoming holiday, please read my post from the last Thanksgiving season: The Value of Holiday Planning. You can also feel free to read about and try my go-to anxiety hack I talked about last year in my post A Cup of Christmas Calm.  Is there an experience you’ve had during this journey that you can give thanks for this Thanksgiving? Your heart will let you know if it’s okay to go there. 


My widow journey began in 2011 when I was 27. My late husband passed away from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. My re-entry into life has been difficult, but my relationship with God, being diagnosed with PTSD and my passion for music, dance and science have greatly helped me get back on my feet. I am currently preparing for graduate school and volunteer as an endometriosis educator for the Endometriosis Foundation of America.

I have so much that I look forward to sharing with you and I hope that you may find something in my writing that will bring hope to your own journey, help you through the tough days, and show you that happiness can be found in the midst of grief.

You can follow me on Instagram at @kellcann