I donated the last of my husbands clothes today. I didn’t want it to be a big ‘thing.’ I wasn’t expecting it to be a thing. You see I had moved all of my husband’s clothes to the third floor when completing the second floor renovations. Then Covid happened and the renovations took much longer than anticipated. I ended up moving in with my parents for a few months while the work was completed. I was finally able to move back in and life just kept going and I forgot about the clothes.
Ok…that’s not *technically* true. I always knew the clothes were there but I was able to push them to the back of my mind. Until one day I couldn’t. I just became more and more aware of those clothes just sitting upstairs. So one Saturday I sorted through all of them and boxed them up. A box for dress shirts, a box for athletic wear, a box of pants, etc. Then I moved the boxes to an empty bedroom on the second floor and forgot about them.
Ok, ok, that’s not *technically* true either but I was able to push them back to that tiny space in the back of my mind. Until one day I couldn’t. So I made sure everyone who might possibly want some of the clothes had a chance to look through them. I asked my social worker sister-in-law to find a reputable donation center where the clothes would actually be used and I resolved to donate them. But then I was too busy, and then it was raining, and then I was out of town so the boxes sat for weeks. I was forced to grapple with the idea that maybe I wasn’t ready to let them go.
They’re just clothes. They just sat in the boxes in a room I never went in. I was not the type of griever to go and sit with them or look through them. But even if they just sat in that room there was something nice in knowing they were there. They were a tangible reminder that I had once lived a different life. That I had not always been alone in this house. So I let myself be ok with letting them sit there. There are no timelines, no requirements, just pressure I put on myself to do this widow thing right. So I didn’t forget about them but I let them go to the back of my mind.
Until today. I wasn’t out of town and I wasn’t busy and it wasn’t raining. Today was the day. I loaded all of the clothes into my car and it was a very full car. I’m talking trunk, backseat and front seat. I didn’t want it to be a thing but as I drove to the donation center it became very clear that this was going to be a thing. So in a very fragile mental state and with a lot of deep breaths I pulled around back to drop off the clothes.
Apparently today really was donation day and I found myself surrounded by people dropping off junk. Look I am an avid thrifter and I love a good yard sale so believe me when I tell you these people were dropping off true junk. But I had good stuff. I had a person’s entire wardrobe-I had suits. So it was jarring when the worker said, “ma’am what do you have today?” “um, clothes,” I replied. “Great that red bin right there.” And that was it. A minute later the clothes were in the bin. I waited for a “wow this is a lot of great stuff.” I guess a part of me was hoping someone would say, “Look, suits-oh my goodness Johnny needed a suit for his job interview but he can’t afford a new one and we didn’t have any. These will be perfect for him. Someone call Johnny right away!”
But instead there was just a “did you need anything else ma’am?” And I shook my head, swallowed a sob, and got back in my, now empty car. I thought of Naomi when she returned to her hometown after the death of her husband and sons and said, “I went away full and have come back empty.” (Major nerd alert-I know). My car had been full of my husband’s clothes and now it was empty. And there was no blessing in the stillness or reassuring feeling of generosity. It was procedural and it was sad. The giving away of the last tangible pieces of someone’s life nestled between people dropping off the junk from their attics.
They are just clothes, they are not my husband and they are not my memories. I didn’t want it to be a whole thing. But when it wasn’t, when it was an ordinary drop off on an ordinary day I realized it could have been a thing. There should have been “a blessing for dropping off clothes” followed by a responsive reading and unison prayer. A liturgy for donating the last of a wardrobe, if you will. Because they are just clothes, but they were his clothes and he is no longer here to wear them. So it’s a thing.