Leaving the old place, the new place up ahead. Photo by Nan Fry.
I am convinced that if I ever write a memoir, which seems a distant thought away, that I will have a chapter called ‘Moving.’
“No,” my 23-year-old son said when I told him this. “The entire book will be called 'Moving'.”
And so, I am preparing to move again in the midst of the globally-shared pandemic. Moving in with my partner. He and I have finally decided, after four years of trying-to-be-very-sure, to take the leap. Actually, it is giving me something positive to focus on during this bizarre and unsettling time that we all share.
But, I digress. Back to the most probably never-to-be-written memoir, Moving.
I have been moving, sorting, and changing abodes pretty much non-stop since my husband died ten years ago. We were together, in a happy and amazingly connected marriage, for over thirty years. Thirty years. That is something. And when he died, I did what many widows do. After the ‘recommended’ waiting period of 1-2 years, I sold our home and moved with my young son to a different town with different and better schools in a different state. It was a good decision. It was also deeply painful and terribly hard to do because dismantling the last home we had shared as a family felt like a second death. But, it was done, and it was better for us.
After that move, it has been a series of rentals. We moved just after the 2008 housing crisis/recession, and I found myself a poster child for previous homeowners now destined to occupy tenuous rentals — with a storage unit on the side.
I believe that we need to keep things that bring a tinge of melancholy.
That means that now, with another move and the work and preparation that comes along with it, I have no problem boxing up dishes, kitchen spices, books, and clothes. What I am finding, though, is how tough it can be on the psyche to come across, once again, the files with condolence letters, unfinished writing projects that my late husband and I once brainstormed together, and childhood items from our time as a family — mementos of a former life. It feels like an ongoing reshuffling of a life once lived, of trying to find the ‘proper’ places for the memories, experiences, and heartfelt moments that I need to keep with me as part of who I am.
This may sound blasphemous, considering her immense popularity, but though I enjoyed Marie Kondo’s book about tidying — and appreciate what she says about only keeping items that ‘spark joy’ — I find it a bit simplistic. For instance, I do not believe that everything we own must spark joy. Maybe it’s because I am older or have suffered different losses, but I believe that we need to keep things that bring a tinge of melancholy. Life is not meant to be lived in a constant state of joy, as she describes it, no more than plants could grow with only sunshine and no rain. We need the laughter, and we need the tears. And though I appreciate that one can take photos of items and then toss them away, sometimes I need to hold something in my hands, press it to my cheek, or gently place it back on the shelf where I can see it and where it can reflect back to me the very moment I purchased it — where I was, who I was with — or remember with a smile the person who gave it to me who might no longer be on this earth. In one tactile moment, I can feel on the deepest level the richness of a cherished friendship or a love now long gone.
'I found myself a poster child for previous homeowners now destined to occupy tenuous rentals — with a storage unit on the side.' Photo by Whitney Smith and Celia Smith.
A full emotional life consists of many complex facets, with more colors than we can even begin to name or define. And, those hues must, by their very nature, include the depths of sorrow, loss and despair as well as the exhuberant highs of laughter and the ecstasy of love.
I realized yesterday as I was in the thick of deciding what to give away, box up (not to be seen and enjoyed for some time), or place on a shelf, that I need not do it all perfectly this time. This can, and will, be a process: a balancing of past experiences, while also making way for new adventures.
It suddenly felt okay to not be fully organized, not be perfectly tidy.
It felt okay to let it remain unfinished, a process. Like my life.
DUST TO DUST
for the first time since you died
or shall I say ‘passed’?
It does sound softer
but not real
You did not ‘pass’
I did not ‘lose’ you somewhere.
That word has harsh finality
an unyielding sound
For some reason I cannot explain
on this cloudy chilly summer day
our son tells me
Mommy, it’s a good day
to stay inside and clean my room
Yes, it’s a good day
to clean the house
I take out a cloth and dampen it in the kitchen sink
sprinkle some Bon Ami
begin to scrub
the hallway walls
I have no idea why I start there
the hallway closet door the baseboards
sweeping dog hair from the floor
When I get to the door of our little office
where the gouges
on the wood of the door frame
horizontal black stripes
from your wheelchair
scraping against it scraping against it
in those last months
when your legs no longer supported
the large and strapping frame
I said to you once
Oh be careful
we’ll damage the house with that wheelchair
Later I shrugged
Oh well then
we’ll have a house full of wheelchair scrapes
to be lived in
We are living in it right now
I scrub hard now
on those scrapes
each one precious
remembering how on this very day
one year ago
your young son and I
prepared for your birthday
the one that would be our last together
in two days
the thirteen year-old and I
the day you were born
for you dear and cherished man
brought so much into the world
with your life
who you were
what you did
in the time you had
I scrub some more until the black
marks are gone
cut deep into the wood
No scrubbing will change that
they are too deep
I put down the rag and begin to cry
SUSANNE SEVEREID is an author and actor/presenter with an extensive background in journalism, television and radio, including hosting an EMMY award-winning PBS-TV documentary about Auschwitz and as co-producer/host of "Courageous Grief Talk." Her books include When Someone You Love Is Dying: Some Thoughts to Help You Through and Mocha Musings: Reflections on Life, Love, and Chance Encounters. Susanne lives in Ashland, Oregon. www.susannesevereid.com