I got trolled last week by a woman who thinks I made my wife kill herself but today was a very poignant day so I’ve changed the focus of this post to one of calm contemplation, rather than disgust and rage. Today, a scruffy looking DHL driver came to collect the remaining boxes of my late wife’s belongings. They’re going to my in laws. For over two years, I kept three boxes of her chattels aside for them and the day finally came where, in order to bring my legal dealings with them to a close, I sent them off. Surprisingly, I cried only for about five minutes before I decided the kitchen floor wasn’t very comfortable and that I’d rather return to watching Gossip Girl. It seems I was ready to let go. I smiled and opened a bottle of champagne, even thought it was 2pm on a Tuesday, to recognise my achievement and the new chapter of my life I’m in.
For some widows and widowers, it can take a decade to get rid of stuff. I’ve heard stories of widowers whose new girlfriends move in only to find the wardrobe still stuffed with the late wife’s couture. On the flip side, I know of people who have thrown away everything within days of the death and redecorated the entire house in flamingo pink, just because they could (and grief makes you go mental, especially early on). People vary, and that’s ok. Personally, I think it’s an unhealthy way to grieve to create a shrine to your late beloved with a life size photo, candles, incense and wedding video playing on loop on a small screen behind. But each to their own. We do what comforts us in our grief. Just the other day, I wrote about the discovery of my late wife’s favourite faux fur blanket which set me off crying hysterically. I’ve been wrapping myself up in it nightly and sitting on the sofa binge watching Netflix. It’s hard to let go of our late spouses’ possessions, especially those that hold memories.
When my wife died, I had to very quickly pack up the house so that renovation works could begin. There was a giant hole in the ceiling where she had hung herself and people were rightly terrified that I’d copy her. I had also been presented with a long list through my in laws’ lawyers of things they wanted which, I shit you not, included the salt and pepper mills, and the dining table. Vultures were descending, ignorant as to inheritance and transfer of ownership, and I had to move quickly. I changed the locks.
The immanency of the builders’ arrival particularly meant that I couldn’t postpone the pain of sorting her things in our bedroom. As lesbians, we shared an awful lot so it was impossible for anybody but me to distinguish between hers and mine. I say we shared – actually my wife just pinched everything I bought, with the exception of shoes, shirts and trousers. We even shared ‘period knickers’ which, upon reflection, I know is waaaay too lesbian-y. In the end, all my wife really had that was ‘hers’ could fit into the three boxes I sent to my in laws today.
A week after my wife died, two friends acted as de-clutterers as I sat distraught on my sofa – a fresh widow, still in shock, already a stone lighter in weight, wanting to die. They brought every item of clothing out of my wardrobe and showed it to me so I could decide what to do with it and they put it in an appropriate box. It was like a warped nightmare version of having a stylist revamp your closet. There was the first step of identifying what was mine (which included anything previously ‘ours’) and what was uniquely hers. Then of her stuff, what should be given away and what should be kept. I wanted to cling to every memory. Every sock. Everything that ever touched her beautiful body. Yet somehow I was able to whittle it down and separate to ‘keep for now’, ‘save for [specific person]’, ‘never let go’ and ‘probably go to charity’.
Over time, certain friends felt comfortable enough to approach me and I gave them the things I’d saved. I knew my wife better than anyone in the world and I knew what she’d want certain people to have. I honoured that. This, by the way, included keeping the salt and pepper mills and the dining table for myself.
It turned out that the decisions I made even during that acutely agonising time were good ones. I instinctively knew what was too dear to my heart to part with. Yesterday, I went through the boxes I would be sending off just to double check. I expected to find the whole thing incredibly traumatic but I didn’t shed a tear. In fact, I put a few more things in. I secured boxes with a heck of a lot of masking tape and attached the DHL barcode labels that my new girlfriend had printed for me. I hadn’t involved her intentionally, but it feels significant that my girlfriend was helping me with this step forward in my journey. For the record, she did in no way force me. It’s just the time is right (and she had access to a printer).
My ‘never let go’ selection is very small. I retain a few choice items of my wife’s – things hugely personal that I couldn’t dream of letting anybody else have or telling you about here. It all fits in a large shoebox.
Her presence in my home is barely visible now. It’s only in photos. Visitors wouldn’t have a clue about the shared items. But her presence in my heart is huge. Some memories have faded but nobody can take anything else away from me now. I may have said goodbye to those boxes, but I’ve also said good riddance. Good riddance to some of the hurt.
(I also very much need the wardrobe space)