Lost and Broken Things

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.

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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

Letting Go

I spent most of yesterday sorting out a few boxes in my storage unit. I have no idea why, but I woke with the feeling that I needed to start getting rid of more of my stuff. I got rid of half of everything Jeff and I owned when I left our home, and a third of what was left when I left my father’s house, but I still have way too much stuff for someone who is somewhat of a nomad, moving from one temporary place to another.

Although I hadn’t intended to, hadn’t even remembered I still had them, I ended up tossing out my grief journals and the letters I wrote to Jeff those first years after his death. I’m sure there was much wisdom in those pages, but there was also too much sorrow and too many tears. No one needs to keep that sort of grief-laden memorabilia. And anyway, if ever I am interested in my thoughts back then, I have hundreds of blog posts and of course, my book Grief: The Great Yearning.

It’s odd, but I don’t feel anything — neither relief that the sorrow is thrown away nor regret that I got rid of the journals. I suppose that means I chose the right time to let them go.

I still have Jeff’s ashes, but it’s getting close to time to get rid of those, too. It might be nice to take them with me on my May trip, and sprinkle tiny amounts in all the places I know he’d love. (Shh. Don’t tell. It’s illegal to dump human remains without a permit, but a teaspoonful here and a smidgeon there spread over hundreds of miles shouldn’t upset the ecology of any area.) Still, the trip is still months away, and anything can happen before I have to decide.

I also threw away the handwritten versions of my books (the first four were completely written by hand, and even parts of the more recently published books were handwritten). I’d been saving them for . . . I don’t know . . . posterity, maybe. But posterity has passed me by, and so far I haven’t needed them to prove my claim that I wrote the books, so it was time to let them go, too.

Some things I did not throw away, such as the binder filled with maps and information about places I’d planned to visit on my cross-country trip two years ago. The most astonishing fact about those pages is that so many were about long-distance hiking trails, including maps. I vaguely remember planning to hike and backpack in the various national lands along the way, figuring that when I hit North Carolina, I’d be ready to hike part of the Mountain to Sea trail. Unfortunately, by the time I got to North Carolina, I could barely walk up stairs. (I’d wrenched my hip in ballet class before I left, and the hiking I did in the beginning and all that driving only made things worse. I’ve been doing piriformis muscle stretches ever since, and maybe this next adventure, though shorter, might be more active.)

One piece of torn paper that I tossed in the trash yesterday while working was picked up by the wind, and so I went dashing after it. (Although I might not have a problem with littering the wilderness with Jeff’s ashes, any other sort of littering is anathema to me.) I have that dusty, wrinkled bit by my side as I type this blog. It was a quote I’d found and jotted down with pencil:

“Let go, trust and just take the first step. The pathway will unfold before you.” That advice comes from The Peace Pilgrim, a 44-year-old woman who set out to walk for peace carrying only a pen, a comb, a toothbrush, and a map, trusting to those she met to supply what she needed, though she never asked for anything. I wish I had her trust, her courage, her zeal. Could I ever just head out on foot with nothing and wait to see what happens?

It’s one thing to let go of possessions that no longer have value, but another thing to just . . . let go.

But maybe . . .

Someday . . .

Meantime, most of my stuff still needs to be sorted, and more gotten rid of. Do you notice I’m using the passive voice? That’s because I don’t want to have to face the reality of who is going to have to do all that work.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.