When did you clean out your husband's closet?
(For our new readers: Over the past several years I have interviewed many widows about their day-to-day life after the loss of their husbands. I asked all of the women I spoke to the same fifty questions, all practical inquiries about everyday life. Many readers have asked me to share my answers to these fifty questions...and since I could hardly say no seeing as the whole thing was my idea...I answer them here at Widow's Voice.)
Cleaning out Phil's closet has been an on-going process. In fact, I don't think I will really be done until I move from this house. But the initial moving of his things began six weeks after he died.
Initially I was comforted by having Phil's things all over our bedroom. Shoes where he left them, laundry in the hamper, watch on the night stand...but within a few weeks these personal items began screaming his absence. When I walked into our room the atmosphere suggested that he would be back any moment, but the reality was starkly different. I began avoiding the place that was once our retreat, our little escape from the rest of the world.
Since I ran my own business at that time, I closed the doors for six weeks while I tried to get my head around the fact that my husband wasn't coming home. As the deadline to go back to work approached, I decided that I needed to transform our room into my room. Harsh as that may sound; I needed to be able to walk into the bedroom without being accosted by loss each and every time. So, I painted, moved the furniture, hung some art, bought girly bedding....and ended up one night sitting cross-legged on the floor, beer in hand, looking into our closet. I sorted, I laughed, I cried, and then I cried some more. I lined up seven cardboard storage boxes against one wall in the room (one for me, and one for each of the kids) and began filling them with items that would mean something to each one.
Each of the girls got one of his sweatshirts. I put a pocket knife from Phil's collection in each of the boys' boxes. Everyone ended up with a hat, a pair of socks, a t-shirt, a pair of crazy boxers, coins, photos, cards from the funeral...a collection of odds and ends that told a story about the man we loved and lost. I took his bike jerseys out and assigned one to each friend. These went into envelopes with notes attached asking each friend to please wear them, use them, celebrate in them. The process was both excruciating, and cathartic. His clothes became gifts, his preferences became memories, and the reality that he wasn't coming back stopped screaming at me every time I walked through my bedroom door.
There are items that never left their spot, most went to a church in Mexico, many went to friends or family, but slowly the closet has morphed into a single woman's closet. You know what that means...I have run out of room for my clothes already.