Friday, August 26, 2016

Tissues and other reminders

When Kevin died I didn't know what to do with most of his stuff. This is a really common thing when someone you love dies. What do you do with the things they touched, the things they treasured, the things they used? Some I was able to get rid of in relatively short order but others... I would think about tossing or donating them and I would immediately start crying.

I ended up getting a storage unit, deciding I could trade money for time to let the emotions ease some. I've had a storage unit for almost two years now. I know some people consider storage units a waste, but I don't regret putting this stuff away until I could think about it without immediately drowning in grief.

This week I spent some time at my storage unit, sorting through his stuff, our stuff, the artifacts of a shared life. It was hard.

I was surprised at what was triggering and what wasn't. I expected his t-shirts to be the hardest thing I would tackle that day, but they weren't. I was able to sort through them with relative ease, remembering which ones he loved, the stories they told, picking out some to save and others to give away. It was mostly a sense of nostalgia.

Then I went through a bag of bags and it was there that I found the grief.

Kevin was perhaps the country's most dedicated consumer of tissue pockets packs. He tucked them everywhere. In every bag, in every jacket, in every drawer. I found half-empty packets of tissues in his old computer bag and I had to take a deep breath, surprised at the sudden clutch of pain in my throat. Each of the packets was a moment suspended in time, a representation of how he planned ahead, how he had sneezes that sounded like trumpets, how he always had a tissue ready for me when I needed one. The half-used packets displayed such an interruption. He didn't have time to use them.

After awhile I gathered myself together and decided I had enough energy and determination to continue for a bit longer. It didn't take long for me to hit the wall. And the wall was made of shoes.

Kevin was a big man and had appropriately big feet, he wore a size 13. I loved the size of his feet. I loved tucking my shoes in his; every time I would giggle and he would sigh. I loved the way his toes were long and strong and would curl over mine when we lay back-to-back, our feet sole-to-sole. I loved seeing his shoes lined up by the front door. I loved his satisfaction when he found shoes that fit, a good size 13 isn't easy to come by.

After he died it took me close to a year to even move his shoes, though I knew he wouldn't need them again. Joan Didion wrote of a similar experience in The Year of Magical Thinking.

As I was going through stored materials I came across the last pair of shoes he wore, with his dirty socks tucked inside. I held those shoes for a long time. I smelled his socks. I struggled to find some molecule of his scent left somewhere in that fabric, in the nylon and rubber soles. I looked at the remains of sidewalk salt left in the tread, remembering that cold and desperate winter. I remembered how hard it was for him to put shoes on at the end, that they no longer fit and he couldn't bend to lace them. I remembered kneeling before him and sliding socks over his swollen feet so he wouldn't be cold. I remember knowing this wasn't going to last but dreading never doing it again. I would do it again if I could.

I clutched his shoes to me and I cried.

Then I put his socks aside, to add to the box where I keep the most precious things, and I put the shoes in a give-away bag, for a shelter, knowing there was someone else out there, someone who had a hard time finding shoes that fit, someone who maybe couldn't afford more than one pair. Someone who needed them more than I did.

I locked my storage unit and I drove away. I'm glad Kevin had tissues handy when I needed them.

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

12 comments:

  1. Oh Laura. This is gorgeous and real. And gorgeous because it's so real. Thank you.

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  2. As always- strong, heartfelt, brilliant and filled with your light

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    Replies
    1. I am grateful for your light in the world.

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  3. I, too, have a hard time with shoes. My husband also wore a size 13 and he loved shoes. They are all still in the closet, 19 months later. I've only been able to let go of 2 pairs of golf shoes, a pair of unused croc flip flops and a pair of sandals-all given to family and friends. There are over 20 pairs yet to deal with.

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    Replies
    1. What is it about shoes? Thanks for telling me you have them too.

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  4. This is beautiful, Laura. Thank you for sharing. I hardly knew Kevin (though I could tell he was amazing) - I love learning this detail of the tissues. How tender.

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  5. I am tearing up reading this. Thank you for sharing.

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  6. I kept two pair of his rubber slip on sandals, those that he wore at the beach. I wear them out on the patio or yard even though they're too big; and I can feel him walking with me.
    Going through a husbands things is so very hard.

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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