During the first few months after David died (three days before 9-11), I felt paralyzed. I used to walk into the middle of his suits in the closet, trying to smell "his smell," but he hadn't worn them in such a long time they didn't have a smell anymore.
Finally, I realized that his "smell" was really his deodorant so for several months I was deodorant-sniffing, until I gave that up.
Shortly before his final illness, I had ordered ten custom-made shirts with his monogram. I buried him in one. Since my brother has the same initials, I gave the remaining nine to him.
My older son told me his friend's father loved designer suits, so I gave the friend all of David's suits for his dad. I never got a call or email from the father thanking me. We now wonder if the friend ever gave them to his father.
My younger son took very worn Topsider shoes that David wore during his last year when regular shoes didn't fit. My son keeps them in his closet and I am not allowed to touch them.
My step-daughter asked for all the NYC Marathon t-shirts and hats.
Other clothes, I gave away, though I kept the special sweaters I had given David (don't ask why). I also kept the unworn pajamas I bought David to wear in the hospital. I now wear the tops myself.
For a very long time, I left David's part of the closet empty (some of it is still empty).
All the other things were harder to go through and part with. Finally, I got a big cube-shaped gift box from Bloomingdale's and put in there the stuff I couldn't part with, like his wallet, special letters from our children and his ID bracelets from the hospitals.
Whenever I felt up to it, I would go through one shelf at a time. There are at least 5 flashlights with dead batteries. But I still say, I can just buy new batteries and they'll be fine.
The night table drawers were last and most difficult. I emptied three, and one is still full of his "stuff." It's not bothering anyone; I have done as much weeding as I can.
With the help of a dear friend, I pored over reams of David's personal papers and decided what I didn't want my children to find after my death.
I destroyed those, which was difficult. What if I wanted to see then at another time? I never did.
David was such a pack-rat. Still today, the top shelf of "his" side of "our" closet is filled each of our kids' papers, reports, etc. from every grade from kindergarten through high school.
My older son doesn't care what I do, as long as I don't touch his baseball cards, but my younger son would be devastated if I were even to move the boxes to the basement.
Last came the safety deposit box. When I opened it, I was overwhelmed.
To give you an idea, on Halloween, my in-laws used to send my children a card, with one or two dollars, signed "You trick, we'll treat." David had saved all those cards and dollars. (My parents made it much easier. Every year they gave each of us a check for $10,000, which I invested.)
I gave my sons their dollars and asked my brother, a psychotherapist, what to do with the rest of the dollars. He suggested putting them in a drawer and in a year they would just be dollars and I'd be able to spend them. And that's what I did.
David had a list of each of the children. For example, there was his Sandy Koufax baseball card with a postIt marked "For Claire," his daughter, so I gave it to her. I left collectible coins and some other stuff in the box for years.
Finally, after I was diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer, seven years after David died, I went through the box with my older son. He took everything with him in a shopping bag to distribute to his siblings. Only then was I finished with that safety deposit box!
Look for more of Beth's story in future posts. (Note: names have been changed.)
How have you dealt with possessions of loved ones after they've died?
For more of Beth's Story:
- Caring for my Dying Husband at Home
- My Husband's Final Days and Funeral
- He Asked "Am I Going to Die?" I Had to Tell Him, "Yes, You Are."
See also another woman's story: