Tuesday, September 25, 2012
It Ain't No Thing
It's hard to explain to people how upsetting it can be to let go of a thing. I think it's like when you try to explain how devastated you are about losing a pet: your friends will nod and pat you on the back while secretly thinking, "For God's sake! It was just a cat!" And you know they're thinking that so you try and justify it by going into detail about how that was the best cat in the entire world and how it changed your life and brought you so much comfort and joy over the years.
Now, take that scenario and replace "cat" with "refrigerator" and most of the people you know will start drawing up your commitment papers and preparing your padded cell.
It really shouldn't be that hard to explain to other people how inanimate objects can have a significant hold on all of us because EVERYONE is sad to lose something at some point during their life. It doesn't even take a catastrophic event to make it happen (although that does further it along and makes you sad to lose everything from appliances to plants to Tupperware).
For example: I was extremely sad to leave the first house my husband and I bought together even though the move came at the right time for us and I was thrilled about my new house. But I brought my babies home to that first house. I met some of my best friends on that block. And we had one particular neighbor that we enjoyed torturing every once in a while.
All good memories. And all hard to let go of when we left.
My boyfriend is getting a good dose of this right now. His stepfather recently passed away and last night he teared up a little as he told me how hard it was going to be to have his cell phone turned off.
"I mean, he still has updates," he said. "Oh, God. I know this must sound crazy to you."
Crazy? To me? Uh, if I recall...I called him in tears when I had a new dryer installed. He talked me through a anxiety attack when I got my daughter a new dresser and gave away the one that her dad had put together for her years earlier when she was just a toddler. And just a few days ago, he just about had me breathing into a paper bag as I purchased a new sofa.
And I wasn't hyperventilating because of the price. I was panicked because I knew that meant I would have to get rid of the old one.
So, no. It's not crazy.
But this whole week, I have been questioning why. Why is it so hard? I mean, they're just objects. Things. A "thing" that is important to one person, another wouldn't think twice about disposing of. Reason says that dryers die and need to be replaced, cell phones cost us money every month so if we're not using them they should be shut off, and couches get worn and fall apart.
And the only answer I can come up with is that...they're not just things. They're tangible memories. And I think there's a part of us that feels like if we let them go, we'll forget what we want to remember.
Here is a great example.
When I told my mother about how upset my daughter was about getting rid of my husband's chair, she said, "It's funny how we get attached to things like that. I was just trying to find a picture of my grandmother's chair - you know, the one you have in your living room? - because I wanted you to see where it came from. I have so many memories of that chair and I'm so glad that one of us still has it. Tell you what. If you want to, we'll put your husband's chair in my basement since you don't have the room. That way at least one of us still has it."
"Oh, you don't have to do that," I said, but secretly relieved that we might have come up with a solution.
"Sure we can. We'll just get rid of that other chair we have."
I was silent for a minute. "You mean the one I grew up with?"
"You can't do that!" I wailed into the phone. "You can't get rid of that chair! You've had that chair my entire life! I watched cartoons in that chair!"
That chair said "home" to me. It said comfort. And even though I rarely sit in it anymore, it just makes me feel better knowing that it's there. Now my children sit in it and climb on its overstuffed arms as they watch their own cartoons at Nana and Pop's house, just as I did at Mom and Dad's.
All of these things are not things. They're symbols. They physically represent our memories.
That first house was where we really made our first home.
That dryer made it from Florida to Colorado with us. It dried his clothes. It warmed baby socks.
That cell phone is how my boyfriend talked to his stepfather every week. It carried his voice from one end of the country to another. It kept them together. And now it's silent.
And that couch. The one my husband napped on with newborns (as I watched carefully just in case he should let go and they'd end up on the floor). The one we sat on together and watched Sunday football. The one I was constantly telling my kids to stop jumping on. And the one that held me late into the night for years when I couldn't sleep through the silence that is widowhood.
You're damn right I cried when it was gone.
Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of www.theWiddahood.com and the author of the upcoming memoir Confessions of a Mediocre Widow (Jan. 2014). She is also a writer for The Denver Post's Mile High Mamas and a contributor to several books on grief and renewal.