Permanent Markers

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After Mike died, the story of his stuff was an ongoing issue for a long time. His elder daughter and I cleared his closet a couple of months out because I had to make room for things being moved upstairs in preparation for renting out the downstairs. Then later that year, both girls spent several days with me dividing and clearing most of what was left. It was agonizing, but for me, it was harder living with all his things the way he left them day after day, like he was coming back any minute, when he was not. Then this past year I did another enormous clearing out in preparation for moving, and came across many more items either belonging to Mike, or which we accumulated together. The memories and tears just kept coming. I have finally whittled down what I want to keep of his, and ours, but it has taken this long, almost four years.

Many widowed people keep their loved one's belongings for quite some time. Years, even. And this is completely acceptable too, in my opinion. Every person is different. For some, having their spouse's clothing hanging in their closet it a source of comfort. Or, perhaps, getting rid of it is too hard. Like, the death itself was enough...let me keep his suits. Please. At least for now. And I get that.

But sometimes, financial or other downsizing situations arise that force us to remove and redistribute. That is how it happened for me. And now, I find myself yet again in such a place with my mom, dealing with my dad.

We don't know when exactly, but in the next few months I will be forced from my home in Hawaii due to foreclosure. My mom is also feeling it's finally time for her to move. The house I grew up in has become too much, alone, for her. And I want to be near her, hopefully even in the same house for awhile, as we deal with everything together as a family. But that means downsizing.

The difference for her is that dad is still alive. Knowing he is a short distance away in an assisted living home is horrible. His decline is hard to watch. But he is there. And here we are, thinking about how to get rid of his things. It seems wrong on a lot of levels.

But were he of his sound mind, he would agree we are doing the right thing, I know. And that is what I think about a lot. Dad was frugal, practical, and kind. He would not have wanted anyone to suffer unduly, or to make impractical or unsound financial decisions. And he would want mom to be taken care of too.

My dad was an amazing woodworker. All my life, he built beautiful furniture that still graces their home. Pieces that could be on the cover of magazines. He made gorgeous jewelry boxes, and stunning jewelry to be set inside as well. In life, he was a dentist, and so much more...truly, a craftsman, an artist. We will be taking nearly everything he built with us, if we can.

But the tools he used cannot come. It is too much, this beautiful shop he built over the years in his basement, with every power and hand tool known to man. So this week I spent hours cataloging the equipment and looking things up on eBay to determine value. We hope a local woodworking society will help us find a home for them.

When mom asked whether I could help determine what was actually in his shop I readily agreed and wasted no time going down with pen and paper. Having worked for years as a builder of sorts in Hollywood I am no stranger to any sort of tool.

But once I was in that room alone, really looking at what he had, peeking in drawers and cabinets, it got really sad. For the first time in my life I was really noticing what he had down there, and it was incredible. I couldn't believe how many different drill bits he had. That huge old lathe. Every size clamp imaginable. Piles of exotic wood and drawers of beautiful stones and gems. It was as if he left in a rush - or that he never left at all, a sketch for a new project lying on the table next to his pencil and ruler. Sawdust still coated the beautiful, vintage drill press. Then I felt like an interloper, an intruder into a private world where I did not belong. The place dad spent so many hours alone doing what brought him so much joy.

I am raw and scarred over from my experience with Mike's things, with his death, with my own widowhood and life changes. And that scar will be with me to my own last day. Soon I will have to return to Hawaii and plan for movers to extract that chapter of my life back to the mainland, and it will include things like some of his books, an old sword, a favorite action figure, and even a surfboard he treasured. My new chapter will include pieces of him and our life, just like it will include pieces of dad, for mom. Getting rid of things is hard...keeping them is not always easy either, as the physical reminders of their presence in our lives will be a permanent marker of the love we shared and the empty space it now resides.


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  • commented 2017-01-17 08:12:10 -0800
    Oh, Indie, it is just so hard to know what to do. I think keeping things until you find reason to, or feeling to, change that, is not only ok but perhaps what needs to be. My heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing.
  • commented 2017-01-16 21:27:38 -0800
    During December I unpacked the contents of 35 years from a shipping container which has been in storage for the length of my grief minus the eight months it took me to pack it……four years. I literally moved everything into a container then and now have moved it from our home into my house. Everything. Tools, clothes, pots and pans…….nothing left behind. Will I keep it? Sort through it and pack some away again? I don’t know.

    As much as what I know I have gotten “better” I am still as grief stricken as I was on day one. I just keep avoiding telling myself the truth. I may keep everything forever or finally have the courage to meet myself in the mirror. Not sure where I am along the road but your post struck a chord.
  • commented 2017-01-13 17:09:33 -0800
    Hi Cathy. It takes an awfully long time to deal with the tools, I have a couple other widowed friends who have not even attempted it yet…too big a job, too much emotion. But you’re right, at some point, like to think they will be used again. Thanks for your continued support and hugs to you.
  • commented 2017-01-12 18:36:32 -0800
    What a lovely photo. Been down this road myself with my parents. I still have many treasures of theirs, some displayed, some in boxes. You are correct, lifes’ treasures are hard to part with, hard to keep. My husband was a carpenter, so I can relate to the tools; he never let any go when he replaced them with new ones. It took me a long time to sort and sell or donate., I needed to touch each one, and remember he held them. Felt like I was giving parts of him away, but good to know others would put them to good use. Take care, I know your Mom appreciates all you are doing.