This week, I have been clearing and cleaning the home that I shared with my beloved husband, and, in doing so, I have rummaged through the drawers and boxes that contain the artefacts of his life. I have given away his posters and much of the artwork that hung on our walls. I have let go of his record collection. I have organised his seemingly endless myriad of computer bits and wires and mouses and cables.
I have been unable to go through this process, until now.I knew that it would resurrect the poignant and painful memories of our life together, and, until now, even the thought of going through his things would send me into a swirl of sorrow.
But I am getting the house ready for painting and sanding, and it felt like the right time to organise a bit, and create some order.
Sorting through the remnants of our love has been difficult and sweet. It has brought forth memories that I have set aside, in order to function. It has filled my heart with his presence. It has reminded me of how much I have lost.
One drawer contained his personal items: the new glasses he bought, shortly before he died, the first ones he had purchased in several years; his wallet, with his driving license, his NHS card, and the numerous credit cards he was trying not to use. The nurses gave me that wallet, along with his watch, on the day he died. I remember I looked for his wedding ring, which he didn’t wear, but promised me he kept with him, always, and I found it there, in the change pocket. I placed it carefully on my dresser, where it rests, beside the tube that once held his ashes.
The drawer contained other things, too: his discharge papers from when he was in hospital two months before he died; his blood pressure cuff, his medication, some topical ointments, a box of over the counter pain killers. He used to check his blood pressure and heart rate every morning, gleefully reciting the low numbers, as if they were a huge accomplishment, as if they were indicators of his overall health. There were no signs in those numbers to warn us of his impending death. How could we have known it?
In another drawer, I found all the cards and notes and drawings he gave to me. We lived 200 miles apart, for the first two years of our relationship, seeing each other only on weekends, and we developed a routine of leaving notes for each other, on the coffee table or under the pillow, when we had to separate. His notes always had a creative and playful tone, while mine were often serious and sad. I used to hate leaving him, and our separations filled me with a deep sorrow that he couldn’t understand. On the road to the train station,my heart torn by the prospect of leaving him, he’d grab my hand and remind me that we’d be together soon. He’d tell me that we should be grateful we found each other, and for the time we could be together. “Let’s celebrate what we’ve got,” he would always say. But I could only focus on the fact that we had to part.
When he died, in the midst of my shock and grief, I thought of all the time I had wasted, being upset about such things. Why couldn’t I heed his advice, and lighten up? In the light of his death, all that manufactured drama felt so infantile and pointless. Why couldn’t I be more like him? Why did I have to create so much stress for us?
I have apologised to him, so many times, in the last year, for causing him such needless turmoil, though I don't know where he is, and if he can hear me, now. I told him I was sorry for all the times I failed to appreciate the love that we had, and to find joy in the life that we shared. I apologised for all the fears and anxiety I carried, and for always wishing things to be different than they were.
I have so many regrets.
Yet I know that I cannot change the past. I know, also, that our love was real, and strong, and deep. I know that, though I could not be the playful and content person that he was, I was able to give generously to him, and to love him fully, and I am grateful that he didn’t have to die alone, that he died knowing he was loved.
I have let go of many of the things that belonged to my husband. But I have kept the personal remnants of the man that I love, and the life we shared—his glasses, his wallet, his blood pressure cuff, the drawings and cards and letters he made for me. They are all I have left, these remnants.