getting rid of dead spouse’s possessions


Yard Sale Northern California May 2005. This i...

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Just before we left for our pseudo holiday in B.C., we participated in the hamlet’s every other year garage sale. Our community is small but we are tied together through the Ag Society, which organizes events and whatnot for us. They are responsible for my teaching yoga at the community hall from October until early spring. They put on a chicken supper to kick off the start of summer and make it possible for locals to use the ice arena for free every Sunday afternoon during hockey season.

In 2009, someone had the idea for a community wide garage sale. It took place on Rob’s birthday that year. His worst birthday ever. But in terms of helping emptying our home and putting us on the road to one day be free of the shadow of hoarder house status – it was a great success.

I have been purging the nooks, crannies and closets of excess stuff since the spring of 2010*. We’d thought to have a garage sale on our own last August, but that heart attack thing prevented it, so this year when the community sale loomed, we had several seasons worth of clothing and more cast off stuff from the renovation purge than we would have normally.

The new kitchen proceeds at a steady if not quite “done” done pace, and as I emptied cabinets and drawers from the old kitchen, a fair amount of items didn’t make the cut for inclusion in the new space. The ball bounces that way sometimes.

Fare and Mick were invited out to sift through things before the sale and after. More stuff was off-loaded.

One thing I discovered in the process is that the basement storage room has more in it than I thought. Or Rob thought. He’d been on the opinion that most of what was left was ours – his and mine. Not so. Things he thought the older girls had taken with their childhood things and anything of their mother’s that had value or meaning. Not so.

When Mick came after the garage sale to pick through the leavings of the hordes, she and Rob searched the storage room for a box containing Shelley’s writings.

She was a writer too.

Mick is as well and wanted to see some of her mother’s efforts and share them with her boyfriend, Dare.

But while the box proved elusive, several others surfaced. One was filled with keepsake shirts and another inexplicably held shoes.

“We should plan to spend a bit of time rummaging through down here over Thanksgiving,” I told Mick.

I bring up stuff again only because we all acquire it over the course of simply being alive. Dee’s room is near hoarder status – a trait she unfortunately comes by via the genetic gifting of her late father’s mother – a woman worthy of reality tv intervention. Rob’s stash (which reminds me totally of my own father) is based on the idea that someday he might need something he’s given away. A primitive affliction he got from his mother, whose constant mantra while we helped her pack was “you never know when you might need something some day.”

I am beginning to lean towards the theory that the “hoarding” of dead people’s stuff , however, is based on the fact that we no longer bury their stuff with them. Keeping it in boxes and drawers is the modern version of the Egyptian pyramid tombs.

But, the accumulation of things could just as likely be an outgrowth of the idea that memory is tangible, and objects are infused with them. It’s like a 3D photograph, whose effect is just as fleeting as thumbing through a photo album or watching a video of times gone by. The memory jarred to life is held inside us and the external catalyst just reminds us that it is there all the time, and we’d forgotten about it. The guilt of living in the present compels us to save items that take up space in the dark places of our closets and basements, still forgotten really until the next accidental discovery.

*The reality is that purging has been an ongoing thing for both Rob and I since 2007, individually and as a couple. Sometimes I wonder if we will ever be clutter-fuck free.


Today is the anniversary of Will’s death 11 months ago. The first year is almost over.

In most ways I am ready for it to be over too. I am tired of the restrictions that being less than a year out from his death have placed on me because in some ways I was farther ahead of those widow/ers who are blind-sided by their spouse’s death.

In other ways I was just as vulnerable and unprepared.

I was talking with a widower friend who is farther out than I am about my aversion to the newly widowed women in my daughter’s children’s grief group. The hollow eyes and blank yet tragically mournful faces made me want to run from them. I wondered aloud if I had looked like that.

“Of course you did, honey,” he told me. “We all do.”

I guess. I must have. I know people avoided me who didn’t actually run.

Truthfully I remember very little about the day to day of the first 4 months. Partly because I was buried by a brutal schedule that was killing me as much as it was providing me with a template for surviving. Mainly though, I was not paying attention to anything out of sight. If it was not in my line of vision, it didn’t exist.

I remember events from that time out of order too. I couldn’t tell you what happened first or next or last. It just happened. Things just happened and I rolled or didn’t or was so deep inside myself that I didn’t notice or didn’t care if I happened to. Five months brought the beginning of the descent to a bottom that I alternated between snuggling into like a favorite blanket and clawing at like a cat in a sack.

Between 8 and 9 months the discontent and searching began and really haven’t ended. Except….except that the feeling that I should be getting ready for something, someone, someplace?

I am shedding. Possessions. Ideas. Beliefs. People. In the emptiness…..because I needed more emptiness….comes….well….people, though most of them are not real but virtual and virtually necessary in ways I can’t explain.

Possessions are not being replaced at the rate of loss which is encouraging. New ideas and beliefs are being explored with no promises. When I think about it “no promises” is the current running theme of my life. Not sure how good or bad that is.

I haven’t cried today.

Don’t have that impending meltdown feeling that the widowed come to know so intimately.

I do have that fight or flight chest pounding, constricted throat, short of breath feeling that is reminiscent of a panic attack.

In some ways, I would rather cry. And I hate to cry.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. A day of people.

I seek people out more these days but still wonder why I bothered when I am around them in large numbers. I still make them as uncomfortable as the newly widowed mothers make me.

Tomorrow night I will put out my daughter’s Santa presents….by myself. I anticipate tears. I think I will stop here. Christmas morning will take care of itself without any preconceiving on my part. Thirty days to go.