Chapter 12 – Clearing Out Clothes
Some people clear out clothes and possessions the second a person dies. I’ve seen people carry garbage bags of clothes to the thrift store or collection bin even before the funeral. In fact, I have a friend who won’t buy clothes at thrift stores because she is afraid they are a dead person’s clothes.
There are many reasons for fast clear-outs. As one woman explained, “There are so many needy people who could use his clothes it seems immoral to keep them.” He had a lingering death and they had discussed the matter.
I gave Barry most of John’s personal possessions, including unused gifts, tools, model planes and family heirlooms. I wasn’t giving them away. Barry is his son so it was like moving them into the next room. Now |I don’t have to worry about storing and keeping them safe in a province where wild fires and floods come without warning. There are no strings attached. He can do with them as he pleases because they are now his possessions. He had already donated some and is keeping some.
I kept pictures and written records of our lives and travel for now because I hope to write John’s life story when my emotions settle. I kept his clothes and shaving gear as well as all his papers. I enjoy looking at his handwriting even if it is just a list of bills to pay. For now the valueless effedra of his life stays.
John’s clothes still hang next to mine in the closet. On cool evenings, I sometimes wear his bathrobe or sweats as I watch TV. It is like getting a warm hug. I love to smell his soap and shaving cream and I like to bury my face in his clothes. I wish I hadn’t done laundry so often. Only his bathroom and work jacket carry the pure scent of John.
There is a certain comfort in seeing his coat next to mine in the porch closet. We had two boot trays – one for him and one for me. His unlaced boots still stand on his tray, waiting for the wearer who will never return. His toque and mitts still share the top shelf with mine.
I know John isn’t coming back but I enjoy the tableau of our past. Also I feel safer with his outer wear in plain sight should someone break into the house. They might be frightened off by the thought that a hefty man lives here.
Sorting through John’s personal things was an act more intimate than sex. The dead can have no secrets. I went places I had never been before, invading his personal space. I emptied his pockets, leafed through his wallet, looked at his personal correspondence, emptied his drawers and shelves and looked at everything in the no-woman’s land of garage and sheds. I had to search for things he kept hidden in case of robbery. I found his secret stashes and my future gifts.
I also realized what a hoarder John had been. When something broke down and was replaced, he would take the old one, saying, “I’ll get rid of that’ which actually meant, “I will add it to my Culch Pile.” He was a journeyman mechanic, who could fix anything and he never threw anything out because it might e useful for parts. He often said, “Every man needs a Culch Pile”, so I knew it existed. I just didn’t’ realize what a mountain of stuff it contained.
I actually enjoyed sorting and tidying up his stuff with great efficiency. I found it therapeutic to be doing something so necessary.
John was a neat, orderly person who kept all receipts, warranties and records. He even had warranties for items he had sold before we met, neatly labelled and filed away. He never threw a paper away because he’d always say, “You never know. You might need it one day.”
I sorted and loved John, the meticulous, dependable, organized, reliable man who had a penchant for grouping things together with tape and rubber bands as well as labels.
I valued John so I value his possessions and treat them with respect. I cringed when kind people said “I can get rid of those things for you.” I don’t want to be rid of john’s clothing and stuff. Sure, I know he couldn’t take them with him and he won’t be returning to use them. Still, I think it is my job to see to it that all of his valued possessions go to others who will use and value them.
A friend of mine, widowed three years, still has her husband’s clothes hanging next to hers. Like me, she knows he will never return. His clothes have just become part of the décor for her like the pictures on the wall.
Another friend moved her husband’s clothes out because she wanted more room in the closet. She’s more sensible than us and doesn’t like scrunched up clothes.
I heard of one woman who kept her husband’s clothes with hers in the closet until she heard of the High River floods. She gave all of her husband’s clothes to the Red Cross and the organizers were very grateful. They said they were always short of larger-sized men’s clothes.
Then there is Queen Victoria, the queen of mourning. Not only did she keep the clothes of her beloved Albert. She had them laid out daily all ready for him to wear for 39 years. Sometimes rituals are comforting.
A neighbour went to a senior’s home and gave all her husband’s clothes to the Diabetes collection because she moved.
Most widows, who must move to smaller places, don’t take their husband’s wardrobe with them.
When widows remarry they usually give their husband’s possessions away so they can start the new marriage with a clean slate.
Some people have estate sales or garage sales. Often it is a matter of finances if a long, expensive illness left the widow with a heavy debt load. She must find money any way she can.
I think every widow must do what feels right at the time. There is no right or wrong. The only widows who have regrets are those who were forced to part with their husband’s belongings before they were ready to let go, and those who are under pressure to hang onto things thy might have been ready to part with for quite some time.
I am amazed to find that even the most sensible of widows, who have given away their husbands clothes without hesitation often shyly confess that they still have some of his favourite clothes – memory clothes. They find them comforting.
Whether clothes are given or kept, Mom’s two old superstitions apply. Mom always said you shouldn’t expect the clothes of dead people to last long. As the body decays the clothes decay.
Mom was a sensible lady, who wore out the clothes of both Auntie Annette and Grandmother after they died. She always washed the dead person’s clothes before wearing them, and she washed them separately from our clothes because she didn’t want another death in the family.
Addenda, May 10, 2016-06-26
When I heard of the Fort McMurray fires and massive evacuations, I thought, “There are men who lost all their clothes and John’s vacation wardrobe is nearly new.” John liked to get new clothes for every trip so they were well travelled but barely worn. He was stylish and dressed young.
I actually enjoyed checking pockets and folding his familiar clothes for one last time. I said good-bye to them and blessed their new wearers. I packed 22 t-shirts, 189 shirts, three pairs of shorts, four jeans, three cargo pants, two dress pants, two corduroy pants, five jackets, two panamas and 30 pairs of brand new socks that had never been worn.
I almost forgot to give those socks. They were gifts. When people asked John what he wanted for Christmas, he would always say, “A pair of socks would be nice.” He wore out about half as many socks as he received as gifts so his stock pile kept growing.
I confess I still have some of his clothes. I have all of his motorcycle clothes for now. I plan to pack the more worn every day clothes, underwear, and shoes for donations bins. He was XL and I am S so all I can wear of his are toques and caps which I have kept. I’ve also been snuggling into his bathrobe and sweats for comfort, so they stay. And yes, I kept my three favourite shirts and the last outfit he wore – the clothes he took off the night of March 16th planning to wear them again the following day. I feel good. I have helped out some evacuees and I still have enough memory clothes to remind me of John and comfort me.
I told a friend of my donations and she said her sister, widowed in November, had just given her husband’s clothes to needy men. It took me 14 months to reach the stage where I was ready to clear out John’s closet and it took her 6 months to reach that stage and clear out her husband’s clothes. There is no right time. We must do what feels right.