It Took Me Ten Years


Sunday morning I decided to clean out my pajama drawer. Knowing I tend to be a bit of a clothes hoarder (imagine if I'd saved all my clothes from the 80's!), I went about my task with the internal mantra, "If you haven't worn the item in one year give it away."

That philosophy worked well until I dumped a pile of clothes on the floor to sort, and found Phil's boxers. 

For some reason, I can remember exactly when I purchased these underwear for him. The mischievous smile on his face when he received them as a 'just because' gift comes easily to mind. His quick comment, "Honey, you know I don't wear underwear," which was loudly stated in order to horrify the kids almost rings in my ears. Every other time I have cleaned drawers or moved house these boxer shorts were tossed into the 'items to keep' pile. There wasn't a question when it came to this clothing item, until today.

The boxers are falling apart. In fact, I've worn these boxers a million times more than Phil ever did. In those first few months after he died, I was afraid to wear any of his clothes because I didn't want his smell to waft away. Eventually, desperation to feel surrounded by him led me to wear one of Phil's sweatshirts, and the resulting feeling of his nearness flooded me with comfort. After that day I wore his clothing nearly every day.

His favorite USC t-shirt became my kick around the house shirt, his boxers I made into my pajama bottoms by rolling them over twice at the waist and not caring at all about my sagging bottoms. Running tights and pullovers became my cold weather running gear despite the fact that they were all huge on me. I soaked up Phil's love and energy every time I pulled on his clothing, and when his boxers fell out of the pile of clothes today, I felt as if my heart skipped a beat. 

Phil died ten and a half years ago. The boxers in the photo above have been worn so often since he died that they have a hole in the bum and the seams are all frayed. Rolling them over twice to make them fit me no longer works because the elastic has stretched to the point where wearing them makes me feel like a teen whose pants need to be pulled up. So, over the past couple of years these treasured boxers have sunk down to the bottom of the pajama drawer. 

Many widowed people are questioned about their choices regarding what they keep of their loved one's belongings, and how long they hold onto their personal items like clothes, shoes, toothbrushes, perfumes, purses, tools, know, the list is endless. I am a firm believer that each person will know how and when to gift, giveaway or treasure the physical items that belong to the person for whom they long. There just isn't a time frame or a logical method that can be applied to all circumstances. Each grieving person has to find their own style for handling the myriad physical items that remain after someone we love dies.

As I sat on the floor of my closet considering whether to put the boxers back in my drawer or to put them in the *gasp* trash pile I realized that the boxers are not memory keepers. Ten years of living after Phil's death has taught me that memories are fickle things. Sometimes I can't remember Phil's cell phone number. On the other hand, every once in awhile a song or a place will bring back an experience that Phil and I shared in such a powerful way, I feel as if I am time traveling. Not being able to predict what I remember or when I will have the power of recall on which I once relied to prove that my memories were safe has freed me from the fear that I will forget my life with Phil. Memories aren't stored in Phil's physical items or even in photographs, they live in my heart.  

I will never forget the feeling of safety I felt in Phil's arms. His brilliant smile and mischievous sense of fun are legend in our family. As my daughter and I train for and run a variety of races, his advice and coaching is never far from our minds. Ten years after his death Phil is part of my every day life. While specific memories fade in and out the overpowering sense of him remains. 

I threw away his boxers today, and I didn't feel empty. Instead I felt him laughing at me and saying, "Those things look awful, it's about time you threw them out!"

Yet, as I write this blog  I am wearing his favorite gym shorts, the day to let go of them hasn't yet arrived. 


Showing 14 reactions

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  • commented 2017-07-14 19:01:18 -0700
    That was awesome! And it vindicated me for saving the things of Glenn’s that I have. It’s only been 3 years and i’m happy to know I’m doing ok!! Thank you SO much!!
  • commented 2017-07-14 17:37:10 -0700
    Love this Michele. Thank you. It gives so many of us validation. Some of Ron’s items I couldn’t get rid of fast enough & others will be with me forever.
  • commented 2017-07-14 17:22:11 -0700
    Getting rid of a lot of “stuff” was easy for me, but his t-shirts? Never. I take them out and smell them, sometimes sleep with them, and then put them back. I’m too scared that they’ll lose his smell, so I satisfy myself with snuggling with them instead of wearing them.
  • commented 2016-05-20 10:49:23 -0700
    Susan, you are doing exactly what you need to do for yourself. No one’s timeline matters but yours. Just know that even as you let the things go in whatever time works for you, the love always, always remains.
  • commented 2016-05-20 09:47:34 -0700
    Reading your blog…I have a lot to learn about this “widow” thing! Now I see why in the beginning I thought the clearing out would be simple, and then I immediately got bogged down! My husband died 7 months ago. His stuff is still everywhere. I don’t have the energy to do a lot of sorting and organizing. I gave away 2 bags of clothes in the beginning…the stuff that he wasn’t wearing anyway or neither of us liked it. But there’s a second and third tier of everything that’s much more resistant to being moved. So I’m letting it stay. It’s not hurting anything, or me. None of his clothes fit me, so I only wear his over-sized bath robe. Wearing his clothes just doesn’t “do it” for me. For me, it’s holding onto his voice. The outgoing voice mail message is gone, but I gave recordings of talks he gave on online radio shows. I listen to them often and it feels like I still have him. But already I am relying on many new rituals that keep him “almost here”. I just wonder what happens if they start to get old and don’t work anymore. I’m terrified of the pain that lurks in the future. I so, so, so don’t want him to be gone!
  • commented 2016-05-17 15:44:28 -0700
    Ty for this. It gives validation that we are all ok with our choices. While I’ve moved forward with my life that last 4 years since Neal’s death, his last load of clean laundry still sets in his laundry basket untouched and I’ve yet to touch our family Christmas ornament box since his death. I’m just not ready.
  • commented 2016-05-17 09:20:13 -0700
    Thank you for this Michelle. I still have the pillow case on Gary’s pillow that was on it when he died. It’s been two years and I still haven’t washed it. I just keep putting fresh pillow cases over it. I put all his stuff away (or rather my daughter did it for me) about a week after he died. I kept it all in large plastic bins and about nine months later I went through it and made decisions – keep, give away, trash. I allowed myself to keep one bin of stuff and tucked it away. I didn’t have a problem with the give away pile but the throw away pile was so so difficult. As I was carrying it over to the garbage can, I was sobbing and telling myself “It’s just stuff Penny – just stuff”. It was a hard decision but I did it. Next up is the garage with all his tools, fishing equipment etc. That was his sanctuary but I need to do it. I don’t want my kids stuck with doing the job after I’m gone. So I’m gearing up to do it and I will. But your post makes me feel so much better about the pillow case. I’m not ready to wash it.
  • commented 2016-05-17 05:23:19 -0700
    Lifes stuff…what to keep, what to part with. Still have some of his favorite flannel shirts, and lots of tshirts. All those personal items…like wallet and pocket knives … are so dear to me. I think whatever brings you comfort is ok, it’s a hard road we’re on. Nice to know others feel the same way. Funny how a pair of boxer shorts can take you back to those before days, but I so get it. Thanks, Michele.
  • commented 2016-05-16 23:52:52 -0700
    My second move in these last 5 years and I still can’t bear to part with so many things. Funny how socks and long john shirts can bring so much comfort.
  • commented 2016-05-16 20:56:13 -0700
    I Ioved reading your blog Michele and love you for writing it and you know I love you! It is 4.5 years now, and as I am typing this – I sit in Justin’s leather chair that he used to sit in to get dressed (it is not a computer chair – but it was his. It makes me feel so close to him. I too wear his tshirts, sweatpants and his socks. His leather jackets that keep me warm. So, I’m not at a point to get rid of things – but just the other day I threw away some lotion of his – the tube was pretty much almost empty – and I’m sure he would not of minded at all. Glad to know that its ok to hold on to things.
  • commented 2016-05-16 16:42:48 -0700
    thank you for this. very timely as i’m going through my own uncertainty about what to do with my late husband’s stuff. it’s been 5 years and even though i’ve managed to sort through a lot of the actual things, there is still so much more to deal with.
  • commented 2016-05-16 15:55:57 -0700
    Kelley Lynn, I am so glad you know that you should sit in Don’s chair for as long as you feel necessary. And Sharon, I love the idea that Brian is keeping you safe on the road. Cheers to high quality socks!
  • commented 2016-05-16 15:23:02 -0700
    Your post makes me smile. I parted with a lot of Brian’s stuff very quickly – too quickly I sometimes think – but I kept many important things – hats, knives, hiking socks and gloves (which I wear all the time). And I have a ton of heavy extension cords of various lengths which I felt I had to keep and road safety stuff in the same bag he always used – kind of feels like he’s there keeping me safe when I’m on the road – which is a lot. Your post helped me see more clearly what a comfort those things have become. I suppose when the socks have holes, I may throw them out – or perhaps not. Or maybe they will never get holes – he bought high quality socks.
  • commented 2016-05-16 13:22:08 -0700
    I love this sooooo much, but not as much as I love you, friend. 5 years, and I still hold near and dear to me, certain items and clothing of Don’s, that Im not sure I will ever be ready to part with. And his chair. His old torn-up “Archie Bunker” recliner chair that has made two moves with me so far since his death. I know I will have to let that chair go one day, because I cant keep putting it in moving vans forever – its near death already just sitting in place. And that day will be super hard. But today is not that day. Today, I sit in that chair and feel comfort because he sat there too, so many times.