Grief, at least mine, has run a scorched earth policy through my life and its’ made me think about things. In this case, physical things and stuff. Stuff that can cause so much uproar when a loved one sickens and dies. The stuff they leave behind.
I’m not preachifying. Things and belongings, and our reaction to them affect us humans in different ways. We become attached to things and rules and “shoulds” and “have to’s”. Maybe too attached, do you ever think?
Handsome Husband and I spent the last 4 years ridding ourselves of external, material things. Every time we went to our storage unit, we rid ourselves of more. When I stopped there on my way East, after his death, I stopped there again and went through everything of ours, his and mine, and donated more. All of his stuff was either donated or given to our kids or to his friends. Recently I sold the car we’d traveled in these last few years to our older son. I had to remove his name from joint accounts, start my own bank account, and close his phone account. That was really hard.
All of it has been hard to do, I won’t lie to you. It’s been fucking impossible. In many ways I feel like I’ve wiped him out of my life physically, and in most external ways, I guess I have. What I travel with now is a small bag of his clothes, his cremains in a box next to me on the seat and the flag that was given to me at his service. I have pictures of the two of us plastered all over the dashboard of my car so that I can look at them and remember and feel as if he is with me. I want these few reminders because I don’t feel him around me psychically. I also have a small filigree cylinder around my neck that holds some of his cremains. His wedding ring remains on my right hand ring finger, as mine remains on my left ring finger. I change them around frequently, uncertain about what to do with them but still wanting them. I still feel very much his, and I like that I do.
There are very few traces of him left in a physical way and that in and of itself is kind of fitting. He was Buddhist and practiced non-attachment, and he and I together certainly practiced simplicity in our traveling life. As we shed the external material things, we started looking at the internal things we could also shed: behavioral patterns, old thinking, social expectations, whatever came up was studied with a critical eye and held onto or shed if we realized it was more about habit than thought. The same holds true in a different way for me in regards to his physical possessions. The fewer of his possessions that I hold, the stronger my memories and the love of him become. There is no external distraction. What I hold inside is so much more valuable than anything he owned. He left everything to me in his will and I’ve willingly shared things around with our kids and friends and strangers and anyone else I thought might like to have a part of him. He would appreciate that. There’s been no arguments regarding any of his physical possessions. Any struggle about ownership, so to speak, has been of him, of his memory, in a more emotional way, in our family. Which has been resolved by letting go of needing to have ownership.
I always swore I’d never get a tattoo. Why pay for pain, I asked? In the last 2 weeks, I’ve gotten 2 tattoos and nobody is more surprised than I. One on the back of my neck, saying “Nothin’ but Love” and the other on the inside of my left wrist that says “Love” in very graceful lettering. I thought to have his initials put on the inside of the circle on the back of my neck, but this, my new life, is about more than just him as my husband. This life, and the tattoos that reflect it, are about what he truly left behind for me, which is all the love and passion that he and I shared in our 24 years together. Does it make sense to you when I say that is bigger than his initials? This life I’m creating for myself is about his spirit and mine and that very passion, and the initials would be kind of meaningless. The stuff I have can never be taken from me by anyone.
Which brings me back to what I think about when I think about material possessions left behind by those who have died, or who are downsizing for any and all reasons. People fight about them, families are ripped apart, and general chaos and mayhem and ugliness results. What we’re seeking, when we rip and pull at each other about such things, is affirmation that we mattered to our mom, to our dad, to the one who is leaving this life. That we are loved and acknowledged. We can get trapped into thinking that it really is about that THING, when if you really look at it, it isn’t.
I get it. We’re human. Shit about stuff happens. But those things really don’t matter. Who gives a flying fuck about any of it? How about instead we connect with each other, as we nurse our loved ones through their final stages of life and then bury them? How about instead of talking about THINGS, we talk with each other about the memories, the love, and what really matters? How about if we connect with each other in love instead of hate and vitriol?
Death happens in life. We acknowledge that in principle but I think we don’t really take it in until it happens and the person you love so much is lying in front of you, their body frozen in death, white as a sheet, unmoving, unblinking, heart stopped. Death is cold and heartless and we can get protective of what stuff is left when the physical body is no more. In our need to feel loved, we can end up one-upping the love quotient. He loved me more. I was her favorite. My grief is stronger than your grief. She wanted me to have this particular stuff of hers. No, she wanted me to have it. Disagreement. Anger. Shredding of self and others. All over stuff. Stuff. And Things. Here’s my test for you. If this person you’re arguing with about stuff were to die tomorrow, would you feel guilty about the argument? Have regrets? Wish you’d done it differently? Feel just plain stupid? Hopefully so, I say hopefully. If the answer is yes, then open your heart to the discussion about the stuff. Or don’t even discuss it. Just let it go with love.
Enough about Stuff. I know you all know this, so I’m preaching to the choir. It isn’t Stuff that matters. It’s Love. That’s all there is. Not in a song title way but in a very serious way. Don’t. Allow. Things. To. Be. More. Important. Than. The. LOVE.