Cleaning House- A Chore, Grief Avoidance, Or Something More?

It is quickly approaching the five-month anniversary of my son’s passing.  It seems that on or about the sixth of each month, I feel the need to post something on this blog.  In some ways, time has passed quickly, but in other ways, it all seems new, surreal and frankly unbelievable.  As I have mentioned, I have kept busy in my current unemployed (my husband refers to it as “retirement”) state meticulously and methodically giving away Mark’s clothing, shoes, diabetes supplies, and more.  This consumed copious amounts of my time and energy in the first two months.  Then, just as things were settling down, I happened to notice the aging, brown, U-Haul cardboard boxes lining a few shelves in our basement.  Inside these fading containers were countless items that once belonged to my late husband and Mark’s father, Alan.  I had kept a sampling of books that he read, music CD’s, vinyl records, letters, religious (read: Jewish) trinkets and much more.  These items had sat untouched and unused for nearly 17 years.  What was I going to do with these items now that I could not share them, discuss their meaning and ultimately pass them along to Mark?  More so, what would my current spouse do with these things if I were to suddenly pass away? I did the thing I know best.  I began opening each box, meticulously and methodically going through these (somewhat) hidden treasures determined to find a new home or useful repurposing of them.

Over the course of several days in June, I spent countless hours and close to $200 in bubble wrap, boxes and postage to ship many of these items to Alan’s family and friends.  I also gave many religious books to a friend who converted to Judaism, and donated items that had little value, both monetary and sentimental.  My main objective was to insure that these items found their way out of storage and into the hands of others where they could be used, read, listened to or passed along to younger generations.  Also, as a self-described strong and independent woman, it is always my mission to NEVER be a burden to anyone, alive or dead.  If I were to suddenly pass away, I am not sure what my current husband would have done with Alan’s possessions.  He would have little to no knowledge of the contents of these cardboard homes, nor possibly much inclination to figure out what do with all of this stuff.  Now, this (huge) project has been taken care of, and our basement shelves are more sparse and devoid of their once heavy load.

As a former “grief dodger,” it has occurred to me that all of this mindless, busy work might have served more than one purpose.  Yes, I did find new homes for many things that left untouched and unused would only become out of style or no longer wanted or useful to others, but was I guilty once again of attempting to hide from grief?   I was tried and convicted of grief dodging that occurred in the days and months after Alan passed.  I had incorrectly and naively assumed that I was “okay” and that it was legal in the United States of America to disobey the laws of grieving.  WRONG!  There is no such thing as hiding from grief.  She must always be acknowledged, obeyed and dealt with.  If not, Ms. Grief will patiently and quietly wait for you like my Momma Hawk did this Spring as she secretly stalked her prey in an effort to nourish her young offspring.  I learned this lesson like I learn most of my lessons-the hard way!  I believe with 100 percent certainty  that my diagnosis of Leukemia was in direct correlation to pent-up emotions that I buried deep within my cells from the time of Alan’s cancer diagnosis straight through the   21 months following his death.  Only when I was forced to deal with my own turn with cancer did I finally take the time and energy to work with a therapist and also purge my imbedded feelings in a journal in an effort to deal with the pain and grief associated with having a spouse become seriously ill and die.  When I surrendered to Ms. Grief, she just smiled, nodded her head and took me by the hand.  She was thrilled to see me wave my white flag, acknowledge her presence and begin the work of grieving, which is the only way to begin the healing process.  Not the forgetting process, but traveling the path to some sort of acceptance and peace.

It has occurred to me that perhaps all of this cleaning out has nothing to do with my mantra, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, OR with eliminating a mindless and painstaking chore for my husband, OR as a way to commit grief dodging for a second time, but more to do with the fact that I am preparing for my own demise.  While I am most certainly NOT suicidal, it has occurred to me that I am not afraid of death, and that if I were to go now or soon, I would be reunited with my son.  Again, this is not a death wish, but a phenomenon that is common among people who lose someone close to them, ESPECIALLY a child.  Think of the recent, back-to-back deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds.  Mother and daughter passed away within one day of each other.  In his new memoir, My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie, Todd Fisher says that his mother “willed herself right off this planet.” I do not think that I am ready to will myself off this planet.  In fact, I just traded in not one but two cars for a new one, have begun penning my own memoir, launched a website around my intended speaking career, AND paid for the printing of business cards.  Does this sound like someone who is about to rocket off Earth and head for the Other Side?  I think not!  However, if my clock  runs out of time and my name gets called, I am ready.  And so is my basement.