It’s amazing to me how the most trivial things can take on significance when it comes to the loss of the person who connected you to the world.
Yesterday I was clearing out a mini in-basket where my life mate/soul mate kept stamps and related items, such as postage rates and receipts. Up until now, I’ve just left the basket intact. In those first months after his death, I couldn’t bear to use the last stamps we ever bought together, so I set the basket aside and ignored it. Enough time has passed that those stamps now seem like ordinary, insignificant postage, so I dug them out, sorted through the papers in the basket, and threw away the outdated rates and receipts.
One of the things I found in the basket was a simple note he had written: 44¢. That’s all it said. He wrote it in green ink on yellow paper about two-and-half-inches square, so that despite his worsening vision, he could see at a glance what the current postage rates were.
I hesitated a moment before tossing out the note. As unimportant as the paper was, it seemed to be a symbol of how bit-by-bit, his erstwhile place in the world and my life was disappearing. Most of his things are gone now, and attrition has eliminated many of “our’ things — towels worn out, spoons lost, cups broken.
The first time I broke a cup, it about devastated me. I remember crying as if it were my heart and not a piece of crockery that had shattered. As I wrote back then, “I broke a cup today, one more thing gone out of the life we shared. Our stuff is going to break, wear out, get used up. I’ll replace some of it, add new things, write new books, and it will dilute what we shared. Is there going to be anything left of ‘us’? I feel uncomfortable in this new skin, this new life, as if it’s not mine. As if I’m wearing clothes too big and too small all at the same time.”
Still, I did throw out the paper. It seemed foolish to keep it, especially considering that postage rates have gone up since then. And I’m no longer newly bereft, clinging to anything of his to bring me comfort.
If the paper had remained in the trash, there would be story, but a little later, I retrieved the paper and put it back in the basket. My rationale was that someday, perhaps, I’d like to know what the postage rate was on the day he died. But grief has no rationality. I simply could not let go of that newly significant slip of paper.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.