Things go missing. Check out this lonely sock club. Where are the matches? I usually find them, eventually, rolled up at the bottom of someone’s bed, separated from a twin during a fitful sleep. Sometimes socks migrate from one room to the other via distracted laundry sorting. Seinfeld had a bit about socks that go missing – they escape by hiding against the side of the dryer. So I know I am not alone in this problem. Eventually I end up with a collage like this on the floor as I try to reconcile the situation. I used to save all those single socks with optimism. Lately, I have been ruthless. I have given up hope for some of those wayward socks and I let them go.
For weeks I couldn’t find the garage door opener remote. Then I lost my favorite lip gloss. I looked everywhere – no luck. I am pretty good about holding onto my keys but sunglasses and gloves are often misplaced. A thorough search of my purse, the back seat of my car, the counter in the kitchen or my work bag, will usually end in success. But that garage door opener and my fancy favorite lip gloss were just gone. So much in life to keep track of…socks, garage door openers, oh yeah and children, memories, and my mind too.
When someone dies you inherit the responsibility for their stuff as well. My husband left us with treasures from around the world, treasures from his life, and then a lot of just plan old stuff. Like socks. After the loss of his physical presence, his things were both a gift and a burden. What to keep? How can I ever let go of this? How will this memory be preserved? Will my children want this? If I keep this fleece/aftershave/pack of gum/receipt/whatever…will I bring him closer? Some things are too hard to even look at like his eyeglasses – too close, too sharp is the view.
Last year my mom helped me go through his coats so we could donate the ones my boys wouldn’t wear. Every coat pocket was filled with items that told the story of one of his days (or more) wearing that particular coat. As I put my hand in each pocket I was retracing his steps in my mind. Losing him made me want to grasp onto every detail as a way to keep knowing him, finding him. I was looking for him everywhere. It’s not so much that he was lost – I know where he is – but that I am lost and leaning on the things I can see and touch to orient me. Everyone does this differently. I have a zip lock bag of those coat pocket items but the coats are long gone. For other people it might have been reversed.
Over the past few months I have been clearing out things that we don’t need. One son said this house has lost weight! We never had a lot of clutter, but things do collect and multiply, and I am trying to lighten and brighten our home. Slowly I am working toward culling through more of my husbands things and finding a safe way to store the items that we cherish. In homes everywhere there are people doing this same thing – saving or giving away the possessions of loved ones who have died. We are deciding what to keep and what to say goodbye to. I am grateful to the people who have volunteered to be witness to this process. Last year my mom indulged me by listening to me read out loud from the coat pocket discoveries (google directions, boarding passes, dry cleaner receipts – you get the idea).
On Friday I needed to get my husband’s car inspected. I drove it to work. I drove it to the inspection station. When I got back in after the inspection I saw two things: the garage door opener was tucked in the back of the driver’s seat and my missing lip gloss was on the floor. In and out of the car several times that day and I had missed them. Lost and then found. Thank you, thank you I said out loud. I needed that reminder that what I think I have lost is really somewhere. Some things will turn up. Others, well, they just can’t, but they are somewhere. Hopefully near. And like the socks that get reunited and then re-bundled up together, I am hopeful that will happen for us too.
What is lost is what I can hold and see. The challenge is to feel the love that can never be lost, remember the love that will always be. Tomorrow is my husband’s birthday. I wrote this poem two years ago. His apple tree is too big for me to misplace but someday I may have to leave it behind. For now it is a place you can find me when I am feeling lost. I wonder where you are most “found?”
Happy birthday my love
wherever you are,
in the ground, in the sky,
maybe hovering around your apple tree,
your presence a cloak over the hopeful buds,
shielding them from the bitter cold,
of these dark winter days.
Oh be with us too,
wrap me in memories of you,
a backwards birthday gift.
We will put candles on the cake and invite in your light,
waiting for the return of spring,
for the buds to bloom,
then the apple blossoms will wink and dance,
as if to say, see I was here all along,
tending my tree.