Material Anxiety

I may have blogged about this before, but since something has sparked it again, I'm going to go down this path, maybe for the first time, maybe a rerun. My apologies before hand if you've read me talking about this before.

When someone dies you often feel all of you have left of them are what they left behind. Material possessions. While this isn't the case at all - you have your memories, your child, your love, even your pictures - you still have this clinging to material objects that were theirs, or yours together. Ok, maybe this isn't for everyone, or even anyone, whose experienced a loss, maybe it's just me. But that's how I am, I cling to his stuff. His clothes, his shoes, his gear he left, our wedding stuff, anything that was ours together. I just like knowing where they are at all times, so if I need to go see a certain item, it's there. Maybe it's so I can always draw up memories from seeing the items, maybe I just think I can be closer to him, I don't know what it is, but I'm pretty crazy about his stuff - that's all I know. There will be times when I think of a certain object of his or mine and I have to find it right then and there. I have to make sure it's still in the place I put it, that I still have it. It's a crazy anxiety that's probably borderline OCD, but hey that's just my self-diagnosis.

Tonight, I was reminded of my attachment to the stuff. I was picking up things in the kitchen when I saw a shiny piece of fabric on the floor. At first I thought it was a piece from the veil I used for my mannequin wedding design last quarter but upon closer inspection, I realized what it was right away. Next to it, was a green piece of toulle. Together, with M&Ms inside of them and a pretty ribbon around them, was one of our favors at our wedding. Rachel and Jonathan May 2, 2009 was written on one piece of the ribbon, when it was whole. It was, however, not whole anymore. The toulle was torn, the white shiny part had holes in it and the M&Ms were no where to be found. A little four-legged girl that has been staying here had found this tasty contraption in my room and brought it to the kitchen to be enjoyed and therefore in my eyes, destroyed. I instantly filled with sadness and rage. I walked away from the creature and returned the torn pieces next to their purple counterpart on the shelf in my bedroom. I sat for a while and I thought. I remembered the excitement of getting the custom ribbons, our names and date printed in silvery letters marking the approach of our wedding. I remembered my mom and I putting them together. Using the pulley ribbons to make perfect little bows (it might have been cheating but hey, it was easy and pretty) over and over, I think we made a bit more than 200. Layering the fabrics, filling them with violet and teal M&Ms and tying them shut. I remember choosing to keep two, one of each color, to be a keepsake from our special day. And I remembered our special day, the preparations up to it and how amazing that day had been for both of us. I also had a bit of a revelation. While these objects, this stuff, does help draw up memories when we need them most, they are not necessary. They do not hold the memories, they just help bring them forth. I can bring forth those memories whenever I want though because they are stored in my head and my heart. I am still a little peeved at the creature but I won't hate her for life, she didn't know she was ruining a part of one of my favorite days. But no matter what, no one can ruin that day in my memories. I don't think this revelation will be any help in making me less anxious about the stuff, but it may help me if something does get ruined or goes missing.

It also brings forth another question that I am still not ready to answer or deal with yet. How much of his things, our things, should I keep? How long should I keep them? Should I keep every last item we had together until I am old and gray? Carting it with me to every move? Or one day, will I be further in my grief that I will be able to let go of some of the stuff and rely solely on the memories. Of this I am completely unsure. All I know is for now, I have the stuff, I love the stuff and I don't want to be without any of the stuff. So I guess yes, I am thankful. For all of the stuff. Maybe not the anxiety that I get, but definitely the stuff that I have to accompany the memories. Hmmm...

26 comments

  1. No. You are spot on. I do the same. It's OK. It's when the memories fade and you can't hear the sound of their voice anymore that really breaks your heart apart. So...do what you do. Keep the memories alive.

    Then...one day...he will let you go and you will let him go...a little...so you can move forward until you meet again.

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  2. Mrs. P, I know we do not know each other, but I have been following your blog. You are so strong,beautiful, and strong for realizing that these are material things that cannot even come close to the memories or love that you had for your husband. However, do what makes you happy. Even if you had a whole room in your house filled with his stuff, you could visit when you get lonely. He would want you to be so happy, so do what makes you happy. Sending you my best from KY!

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  3. All I know is from my grandmother and grandfather who had a happy marriage of 30 some years before he passed. It's been about 15 years since he left us and she still holds onto things. Goodness, it's been probably 40 years since he wore a uniform and yet she still has all of his! She has little memorabilia from his time in the service, in Viet Nam, and from life in general. Sure, she has gotten rid of things, but it has been hard with every sweep of stuff.

    I think it is different for each person and no amount of time is too much time. You were building a life together and he was instantly taken away from the plan- for the plans you were building together. Life will move on and eventually you'll find it might not matter- but you might be old and gray with all of those things, and it's your perogative!

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  4. Maybe you keep his stuff until your daughter is old enough to decide. Let her decide the piece of her dad she wants to keep since she doesn't have the memories.

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  5. I can soo relate. My Dad was killed suddenly in Nov 2009 while marking an unexploded ordinant. I loathe getting rid of anything that belonged to him. When we were taken to the site out in the field where he had died I spent the entire time searching the ground for bits of his shredded cammies that he had been wearing that day. I can't bear the thought of us moving house because it was the last place I saw him alive, I got so angry when Mum changed the answering machine from his voice because it meant I couldn't call it and listen any more, and when Mum felt ready to start getting rid of some of his stuff, I smuggled a bunch of his clothes to my drawers to keep. I'm glad my crazy attachment to such material things is not only something I do!

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  6. This reminds me of right after my Dad passed. I was sitting at my moms house, days before the memorial, on the computer. On the desk was a note pad he had written down a few notes about something. It made me sad. Seeing his handwriting makes me sad.

    So while packing up the house, I found an envelope filled with balloons that he had sent to the girls a long time ago. But, the envelope was in his handwriting. I couldn't toss it. He didn't write much (after his stroke, he was unable to use his right hand) and i can't toss it. I'll probably always keep it.

    And you know. I keep stuff like that. I tote it around every time we move. I think its a material connection to the past...

    I'm not in your shoes, so I don't know. But maybe Ari will want some of the stuff later. Especially the wedding favor!!

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  7. I hope the dog is okay after having chocolate!

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  8. My mom passed away when I was 6 years old. I have to say, I was very grateful to my family for keeping a box of her things just for me. I'd say, keep a big box of things (one of those plastic storage ones) for Ari, and maybe a smaller one for you. I would say keep it forever. I have never gotten rid of my moms things and I never will. It's good to look back on those things once in a while and just remember. Now I don't know if blogger will let me sign in again to comment (it's being stupid) so my name is Brianna:-)

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  9. You do what feels right for you. No one is walking in your shoes except for you. Just a suggestion if you have his clothes still around is to have someone make a quilt out of them so they can be used. Your daughter may enjoy having a way to have her daddy close. Keep staying strong you are an amazing person.

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  10. Attachment to things is part of human nature I think. Sometimes to hold something tangible in your hands makes the nontangible stuff seem more accessible. If you have that physical thing to cling on to it makes the rest seem easier. Of course you don't need a tshirt to hold to think of the person who wore it, but sometimes it is nice to have.

    As time goes on some things may lose that need, but other things will always be important mementos. And that's ok, as long as we don't guest star on Hoarders I think holding on to a few material possessions that we may not necessarily need but still want is perfectly acceptable human behavior!

    That's what I tell myself anyway :P

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  11. Hello, I follow your blog and this one spoke to me. I haven't lost my spouse but I have lost other loved ones so I understand about keeping things and never wanting to throw them away or donate them. I only have a few items unlike your many many items and while reading your post I thought of maybe if you took pictures of everything and make it into one of those photo books with a little blurb. I know it wouldn't be the same buuut at least you will always have a photo of an item to spark memories and maybe if you made two your daughter would love it when she is older?? Just an idea. Keep smiling!

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  12. Caitlin FergusonJuly 19, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    To be completely honest Rachel, although at times you may feel like a hoarder, I still have every item that belonged to my ex of 15 years. Since the ripe old age of 11, I have cards, pictures, clothes, and I intend to keep it until I myself know that I can part with it...but you, you have Ariana. You can keep it, and when she is old enough and you are explaining to her how amazing her daddy was and how brave he was fighting for what his country and our freedom, you can show her what you've kept, because I can tell you this, if I lost a parent before knowing them, I'd want every keepsake and I would appreciate every keepsake that the other parent kept for me. So hoarder or no hoarder, a lot of us are very much a like. Mine started as a memory box, then it became a memory drawer in a dresser and now it's like a memory closet. It will be that way until I can decide it's time to rid myself of it or even give it back. You'll know when the time is right.

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  13. I've been reading posts today and feeling thankful that my friend's hubbies have made it home (although with issues). My heart breaks for you but I am amazed and encouraged by your heart and attitude. Your husband was a lucky man too. Peace.

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  14. I understand how you feel, I have a few items of my fiance Kevin (who passed away on a deployment)that even tho I have moved on and have a boyfriend now i still have one of Kevins uniforms in my closet and a pair of his boots, and pictures. Sometimes I still need them and go to them in the same way that you said you go to his things. You are not alone hun. =]

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  15. I am the EXACT same way. My grandma passed out over 2 years ago and I hold on to all kinds of things that seem meaningless to others(like an envelope with her writing on it). I just can't let these things go. They spark memories and I'm afraid if I get rid of them then the memories will leave too. I'm this way with everything...not just things from someone that passed away. I relate material things to memories and have trouble parting with them. For example, I have a really hard time giving away old clothes because I remember when I wore them and exciting things I did in them.

    Keep those things as long as you need and maybe one day you'll be able to cut back and just keep some in a special memory box you can give to your daughter one day.

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  16. Each and every one of your posts almost makes me cry. You are one of the strongest people I've ever had the privilege to read about. I don't think I would be able to handle losing the love of my life any where close to how you are handling your loss (Granted the love of my life isn't in the military). I, for one, do not think you are crazy or anxious in the least. You are coping. You are truly an amazing person. :)

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  17. My Father died in March. I won't throw any of this things away. I won't delete the two voice mails I have from him.

    But that's just me.

    Keep them as long as they comfort you, is all I can say.

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  18. My father died when I was 11, over 18 years ago. My childhood is riddled with pain and we moved a lot, so I grew to expect to see certain things again and again. A whole bag of toys and stuffed animals is now down to two items; one of them belonged to my dad. I've found that as time goes on and things get lost or destroyed I don't need all the things; just very few I guard carefully. So I guess what I'm saying is that as time goes on, you figure out what's really important. I'd rather fit it all in one box and have that one box mean the world to me then have a whole houseful that I can't even emotionally process all at once. But like I said- this has been nearly two decades in the making. It'll be okay; if it doesn't feel natural, don't do it. You'll know when the time comes. God bless.

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  19. If it makes you feel closer to him and brings back good memories, keep it. I'd keep all of it. You can pack it away if you ever feel ready to, whatever. And, your daughter will want it someday, guaranteed...all of it. My sister-in-law lost her mother at a very young age, about 3, and she wishes she had more of her mother's stuff. Maybe somebody you know has one of the teal wedding favors that they'd be willing to part with and give to you. I'd ask around. Mary R.

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  20. You will know when you know. One day the answer to that question will be so obvious and you will wonder why you ever had such anxiety over it. So don't let it rent space in your head for free and wait with peace that the answer will come. I don't know you, I am just a reader but I prayer for you and your little one often.

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  21. Hello Beautiful!

    I'm sorry I'm so terrible at keeping up with posts sometimes

    I think the material anxiety and feelings you described seem perfectly normal for anyone dealing with a loss.

    Is there anyway you can create a beautiful scrapbook to hold some of the special memories???

    Still praying for you!

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  22. I am in no way "sentimental" I am not very girly, and hate "love stories" for movies or books. However, I do keep a few things in my "memory box" and if I had a wedding I would have kept the favors. Regardless, of how much time passes these are your memories. My mother kept a few things from my father when he passed and now I have them. I know I have told you before, my father was also a Marine and passed away when I was 3. Any way, I am glad she kept them for whatever reason. It's been 23 years since my fathers passing and she just now gave me what she had left of him. However, she did keep a couple items to herself even though she was remarried 19 years ago to my daddy. Keep the things you love because you never know who might want them in the future :)

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  23. You can ask your family or Johnny's if they would keep the stuff for you if you don't have room. Mary R.

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  24. Hey Rachel,

    This is nothing out of the ordinary. As far as your question only you will know what to do with it when the time comes. Everyone has their own time. I may not know what it is the love of your life but I do know what it is to lose a big part of you. I lost my dad. It will be 2 years in August already! We were really close. I was Daddy's Little Girl. Even though my mom decided to give away his clothes I just couldn't part with all of it so I still keep some of his shirts and I sleep with them sometimes. I still have the gold chain and cross he used to wear everyday. I am like you I have to know where it is. I'm afraid that is all I can leave you with.

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  25. People like you inspire me to go on. You are an amazingly strong individual. *hug*

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  26. I know it hurts right now, but I think when you find more peace you'll know when it's time. =) You are a beautiful woman, and I love reading your blog! =)

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