When our loved ones leave us for the other side of life, the things they touched or used, or things connected to memories of them suddenly become sacred relics. They take on a new and precious meaning as we view them differently than we ever did before. We touch them with reverance and sometimes with awe, with the vague notion that maybe some part of them remains behind, holding tight to the things of this life even as our loved one has gone to the next one.
At Ron’s funeral, we had two tables filled with mememtoes of his life such as funny notes he wrote, fraternity souvenirs, rock concert ticket stubs and CDs, t-shirts, Phillies’ and Eagles’ paraphernalia as well as pictures of Ron with family, friends and girls and women he had loved.
Ron’s brother, Joe, and Joe’s sweetheart, Jill, undertook the enormous task of sorting through each and every item. The task was beyond what I could have ever imagined. Using their intuition and knowledge of Ron’s values, they donated his clothes, shoes and countless other useful items to organizations that could benefit. What a sad but necessary task that was and I can never adequately express to them the depth of my gratitude.
That process on their part was different from the way Tom and I gathered things we gathered when we visited Ron’s home. I slowly walked around the house, room to room to room, touching everything that Ron had touched or used. I ran my hand along the kitchen countertop and brought it to my lips to kiss any remaining DNA that may have remained there. In the weeks to follow, there were many painful trips there to gradually remove his remaining belongings. How hard it was to pick up items that he had carefully chosen for his own use and then decide the next logical place for each. Never could I have imagined how many things would become newly precious to me.
The things that are pictured here are just a few of the items from Ron’s kitchen, bathroom, night stand and clothes closet that we brought home to use, until finally there was nothing left there and we closed the door behind us for the final time. However, the task of letting go of each “one more thing” still remains and can be elusive. I wonder, does everyone go through this excruciating process following a profound loss? Does tragedy or sudden loss exacerbate the sense of pain and confusion?
I write this now to help me say goodbye to those things I cannot keep when we move into our next place, a place that will be smaller and more compact. I confess I don’t know what to let go of and what I get to keep, as many treasures still surround me, things such as inscribed books, hand-made greeting cards from childhood, the very computer chair I sit on as I type this, a teenage note left on a kitchen table telling us that his friend, Tim, would crash at our house that night, the bath mat I took from the bathroom that I keep rolled up beside my pillow to touch before I drift off to sleep at night, a candle from Ron’s house which we light at each mealtime for a food blessing.
When we spend time with loved ones, it usually does not enter our consciousness how complete each moment is. When Ron came to our home bearing this alabaster angel so long ago, I laughingly embraced it in delight, never imagining it would become a sacred reminder of his life with us.
So this question arises day-to-day for those of us who live in the mystery of love, loss and the continuation of life: How do we let go when we have these items around us that keep us holding on to what went before? If I knew the answer to this, I would at least qualify for a TED talk or an interview on some morning talk show, perhaps a book, Letting Go for Dummies. All I do know is that this is one excruciating process where nothing makes sense and every item seems precious even though most of these things have no intrinsic value of their own.
Still, I treasure the shirt we found on Ron’s bed, which he apparently wore on his last night of life. I hold it to my face and I unsuccessfully try to inhale the scent of his skin, a scent that vanished with the passing of 22 months. I look forward to the small kitchen table and chairs held in storage for us when we move into our next place. The table has a sticky spot on it that Ron didn’t notice but I did when I ran my hand over it, so I left it there, like something he left for me to find.
As this posting was being proofread by Tom, I sat beside him reading from a book called “Love Letters From God”. Without my searching, the book opened to a page containing a poem (circa 1570) written by Christian mystic St. John of the Cross. In reading it, I realized that letting go has long been one of our great human challenges:
Tenderly, I now touch all
knowing one day we will