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like ordinary, insignificant postage, so I dug them out, sorted through the papers in the basket, and threw away the outdated rates and receipts.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.
April 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm
Our paths cross again. I came across, just this week, a little post it (yellow) that was “stuck” to one of Bill’s poems. It said: “I like this one.” I had asked him to choose one of his poems so I could publish it in my then-owned publication (Voice of the River Valley). In going through some poems, there it was. The printing was shaky. I remember he could barely write at that point just months before his death. I felt like I was holding gold…a silly post it. I have dozens of his poems, many hand printed, I have the notes he had put together for a book he wanted to write, and I have a list of the contractors in our area that he wrote out instead of typing because he could no longer use a computer…and yet, I (like you) could not toss out a small post it with a note telling me he liked a specific poem for me to publish. It is one of my favorites also. I get it, Pat. I understand how a piece of paper with a word or two printed on it becomes so very important.
April 20, 2013 at 4:38 pm
At least your note is personal. I’d never throw away anything so personal! But a silly little reminder? Obviously, it felt personal to me. Maybe because it was so typical of him?
I kept a note he wrote the last night he was at home. “Bring the deal at cost. US Government.” I have no idea what he was thinking. By then, he was so disoriented, he often didn’t know who I was or even who he was, and yet he wrote that note in a crabbed little hand. I have stacks of health notes he wrote that I promised to keep, so like you, I have plenty of samples of his handwriting, but still I kept these odd little bits.
How did we ever get this far? Next week it will be 37 months. How is that possible? In some ways, now that the trauma of his years of dying has dissipated a bit, I remember more of what he once was, and it has both given him back to me in a strange sort of way while separating us even further since he is no longer here.
April 21, 2013 at 9:58 am
Pat, yes…37 months next week…for both of us….and yes, I find myself remembering the fun times, the alert, quick-minded and humorous, sensitive Bill to a larger degree. A gift to say the least. We have, indeed, come this far…very far.
April 20, 2013 at 9:25 pm
I don’t think it matters why you’ve kept the note. You’ve done so because right then it felt important to do so. Little things can seem important for no reason at all. As you’ve said, “Grief has no rationality.”
April 20, 2013 at 9:38 pm
The note made me sad yesterday, but it makes me smile today, so that is reason enough!
I hope you are doing well.
April 20, 2013 at 11:21 pm
I am, thanks, Pat, and it sounds like you are, too. Nobody ever promised us that life would be easy, but the sun still comes up each morning, and for that I’m thankful.
April 21, 2013 at 12:47 am
You’re right, nobody ever promised us that life would be easy. I will remember tomorrow to be thankful for the sun coming up.
April 21, 2013 at 2:56 am
I know that even my husband doesn’t understand why I wanted to keep things that I did after Jason died. He is very much a minimalist when it comes to collecting things…says he doesn’t need “things” to remind him of Jason. It’s hard to let things go…although easier to sort through after time…but we still deserve to hold onto things that remind us of our loved ones, because “grief has no rationality” and we do what we must do to hold tight the memories of those we dearly love. Sometimes that momento is just that touch-point that connects us to them.
April 21, 2013 at 2:06 pm
That’s exactly true — sometimes the little things are the touch-point that connects us to them, even if it is something that anyone else would throw away. And we need these connections, if only to remind us that once we loved someone special.
April 22, 2013 at 4:27 am
You are absolutely right. We need those connections, foolish though they may see to anyone else. We need to do what we need to do to remember and honor our loved ones and to continue to hold them close in our hearts.