This time I didn’t have to lie on the floor; this time I used the chair. The occasion? A purposeful visit to my closet.
I’d awakened the day after Christmas with a feeling of optimism. I’d made it through Christmas with my eyes misting up only once, and that was during the Christmas Eve service when I read the insert in the bulletin: Poinsettias and Décor placed by the following: Lois Roelofs in loving memory of Marv Roelofs. Gulping a few times, I focused on the lighted Christmas tree on the pulpit and concentrated on the warmth of my grandchildren, seven and nine, sitting at my side.
Christmas Day marked the five-month anniversary of Marv’s death. I woke up with the nagging feeling that I still had thank you notes to write, so I made that a goal to finish them that day, thinking I maybe had five left. Well, there were fifteen. But I did it. And felt like I’d passed an exam with an A+ grade.
The day after Christmas started out well. My mind was abuzz with fun things I wanted to do before my January activities started. It was snowing, plows weren’t through yet, so I’d be homebound for a while. Making my bed, I got a crystal-clear message that it was time to deal with Marv’s clothes in our joint closet. They were hanging mostly where he’d left them, and they hadn’t bothered me except for the one time I’d moved a few and had fallen on the floor weeping. But I wasn’t like Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking who kept thinking her husband would reappear; I wasn’t saving the clothes for him to wear on any magical visits. But they didn’t fit any of my kids or grand kids, so I wasn’t ready to give them to just anybody, so I’d left them in their familiar spot.
Seeing the clothes every time I went into the closet had felt normal, not spooky or strange or anything. They seemed to give me a dose of his strength as I dealt with my house and car challenges. I could picture him in his Levis and his favorite sweatshirt with its child advocacy theme: “The interests of childhood and youth are the interests of mankind,” and his gray and black tennis shoes ready to solve whatever lay before him.
So, that morning, five months and one day after Marv died, and me not yet ready to give away or box up his clothes, I stood in the closet and planned how I would rearrange it to move them behind the door where I stored my winter clothes. Feeling almost buoyant, I gathered up the hangers of my winter things and jammed them onto another rack. Then, I clutched the tops of the hangers of Marv’s favorite shirts (one was a pink and white striped that he said he’d never wear, but did after he got many compliments on it; and another a blue and white checked that I bought for him to celebrate a milestone of his business), and made it half way, five steps, across the room when the downpour started. I thrust the hangers on their new rack and had to sit down on the chair to maintain my equilibrium while I sobbed. And sobbed. And sobbed. As my sobs finally lost volume, I got up and went into the bathroom for tissues and returned to grab another batch of hangers. The same thing happened. All in all, before I finished moving his hanging clothes, then his shoes, I had to sit down four more times. I’ve read about heart-wrenching sobs, now I knew what those authors meant.
I finished quickly, shoved the door wide open, hiding his clothes and shoes behind it and, without turning back, left the closet, drained, feeling as though someone had started at my head and rolled a boulder down the front of my body, pushing all life out of me. Weak and light headed, I stumbled to the living room and lay down on my couch.
Late that afternoon, I returned to the closet; I knew I had to. And a miracle occurred. There was so much room, so much free space that I started to picture where I could spread out my clothes. I had no tears, not even a misty eye. And, weirdly, I heard (or imagined?) Marv say in his pragmatic tone of voice, “I wondered what was taking you so long.”