During the first months after Jeff died, I lost my grip, not just figuratively, but literally. Things often slipped through my fingers for no apparent reason. I simply couldn’t hold on. It seemed as if when I lost the connection with him, I lost the ability to connect with anything. Or maybe grief sapped all my strength. One night, a mug slipped from my hand. My fingers were crooked through the handle, so I don’t know how it happened, but all of a sudden the mug hit the hard tile floor and exploded. It wasn’t an expensive mug, nor did I have a particularly sentimental attachment to it — it was one of two giveaways we’d received from the phone company during a local festival — but I wept as if my heart had broken. Or as if he had died again.
Gathering up the shattered pieces and slivers of the mug, I understood for the first time that as the months and years passed, all our things would break or wear out, and every loss would take me one more step away from our life.
Looking back, it seems odd that the broken mug affected me so much. I’d spent the first two months after he died getting rid of stuff — his clothes, his personal possessions, mementos of his life before me, food and supplies I couldn’t take with me to California, all sorts of things, perhaps a third of everything we owned. It was a horrific time, and I felt so lost and lonely and devastated that no one particular thing stood out as a loss, probably because anything that had a special resonance, I kept.
A couple years after that, there was another silly loss that sent me back into grief mode. My sister made a gorgeous decoration of ribbons and a bow for a gift she’d sent, and since I thought it was too beautiful to waste, I placed it around the hat I wore to keep off the desert sun. After a couple of weeks, it blew off in the wind, and when I realized it was gone, I went looking for it. Couldn’t find it. The bow wasn’t important in the grand scheme of life and death, but it was important to me. It made me feel good, for one thing, and it was a symbol, in a way, of my struggles to create a new life for myself.
After my father died, I went through the things I couldn’t get rid of after Jeff died and found I could dispose of quite a few more things. Then before I moved here, I got rid of still other things. More recently, I disposed of a damaged mug with only a brief pang when I remembered it was the mate to the one I had broken all those years ago.
You’d think after so much loss, one more thing out of my life wouldn’t make a difference, but apparently, it does. I’ve lost an iced tea spoon that once belonged to Jeff — the only such spoon we had — and I am devastated. I’m not crying over the spoon, though I can feel the tears in the back of my throat. I liked the spoon, liked that it reminded me of him, liked the connection to a previous time. And now, that, too is gone.
It’s not as if I don’t have other things of his. I do. We had a lot of duplication in kitchen stuff, for example — the things he brought to our home, the things I brought, the things we bought together. I still have his eating utensils as well as mine, enough to last me the rest of my life. But I don’t have that iced tea spoon.
The odd thing is, as I grow older and then older still, I’ll have to get rid of even more of our things until at the end, I’ll be gone, too. So the loss of this one dainty spoon shouldn’t be a problem.
But it is.
Now that I think about it, the lost and broken things that bother me are not those I chose to dispose of, but the those I didn’t. Just as I didn’t choose to dispose of Jeff.
Of course, I’ll get over losing the spoon, just as I got over breaking the cup and losing the bow and all the rest of the things that are out of my life. Of course I’m grateful for all the wonderful new things that have come into my life.
And yet . . . and yet . . .
Everything that happens, good or bad, takes me one more step away from my shared life with Jeff.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator