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After my dad died unexpectedly, I distinctly remember sitting with my mom between visitations as she shoved his clothes into garbage bags and cleared out his desk. Meanwhile, here I am, four years after my husband died, and I still haven’t touched his junk drawer in our dresser.
I often think about this contrast. Certainly, everyone grieves differently and that plays into it. However, I’ve determined my need to hold onto everything Tom stems from the fact that Tom didn’t leave me much to hold onto.
Purging a Life Before Death
Tom had a lot of time to think about dying. I’m quite sure he was already thinking about when he was originally diagnosed with esophageal cancer. We both were actually – a 20 percent five-year survival rate doesn’t engender much optimism. We still went through the motions of “oh yeah, you can totally beat this,” trying to ignore the fact that no one even tracks the ten-year survival rate because it’s roughly zero.
However, when the cancer came back, there was no getting around the fact that this disease would end with my husband in the ground. That was in July 2012, and Tom set about dutifully erasing his life.
We never talked about it so I’m not sure if he thought he was making my life easier or if he simply felt better tying up loose ends. He sold his motorcycle, practically gave away his truck to a co-worker and cleared out the closet of virtually all his clothes. Text messages were erased, the telescope gifted and books disappeared (does anyone have his Dark Tower series??).
I don’t know where it all went. All I know is that when his ordeal with cancer was finally done, there was very little left behind that bore his fingerprints. That’s left me clinging to what I do have. Maybe that’s why I avoid his junk drawer – I’m not worried about what I’ll find but rather I’m worried about what might be missing.
At this point though, the things I have left – those tiny remnants that prove Tom actually existed – are starting to disappear as well. I cried when I had to toss the Keurig machine he gave me after it stopped working. The same when the sheets we got as a wedding gift ripped in the wash and when the cover tore on a favorite cookbook that was among his last Christmas presents to me.
By the time a favorite mug, purchased by Tom when he could no longer eat solid food, broke in the dishwasher, I couldn’t even muster the tears. All that’s left is the hollow feeling that all evidence of Tom is slowly slipping away and there is nothing I can do to stop it. I am hoping the coffee grinder will hold out; I’m trying to nurse the nearly dead plant from his funeral back to life. But I’m not optimistic.
The One Item That Can Go
There is one notable exception to my zeal to keep everything Tom touched. That would be the storage bench Tom bought as one of my final gifts.
Our house was built in 1922 which meant the idea homes needed closets everywhere had not yet been imagined. When the small living room closet could handle no more, Tom got me a piece of furniture with hooks for coats and a bench that could be opened for storage.
I loved it.
We pushed it up against the stairs by the front door where it stayed until the funeral home workers told me they would have to move it so they could hoist Tom over the railing and out the door. That was immediately followed with a “you won’t want to see this.”
So I moved the furniture and sat in my boys’ room until the men in suits had taken my husband down the stairs and out the door.
Once they were gone, I moved the storage bench back into place and have hated it ever since.