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When I found myself alone

I collapsed on the double bed that was no longer ours but mine alone. Dust motes drifted up from the floor as they do when a long undisturbed space is upended. The room was torn apart. I’d just completed Robert’s move to Daylight Assisted Living and Memory Care. A stifling silence filled our house. No lilting laughs from the front office, nobody shuffling about.

What a mess

I marveled at the dust, unnoticed for so many months. Robert’s bedside table was gone. A few stray charging wires snaked across the floor, bits of sandy lint obscuring their contours. Robert’s pillows were gone. His side of the bed was ruffled and disorganized for the last time. The rolling bins that lived tucked under his wardrobe sat askew in the center of the room. His too-worn shoes poked from a trash bag in the corner. I wanted to simply observe the chaos as a disinterested third party might, but this was my life. I looked up at the ceiling to stem my tears.

The shadows of spider webs floated in the corners of the room. I hadn’t been paying attention,  hadn’t seen the mess until now. I stood surrounded by junk we no longer needed. Junk I no longer needed. I wanted to be free of it all.

All things now

We all react differently to crises and change. I have a bias toward action. What this means, practically, is that I will look at the available facts, then act quickly and decisively, and let the fallout of my actions tell me if my plan was a good one. I don’t have a lot of patience for people who are paralyzed by analysis. We will never have all the information we need to make the correct decision in any given situation. We can only launch our plan and test the results.

What I wanted at that moment was for the landscape of my life, its physical contours, to change so that I could rest in the new reality of my life alone. I did not want to dwell in a place of loss. Life had moved on and I wanted to move with it.

I’m aware that taking action too quickly can bury the emotional experience of a situation. But I believe sometimes action can help you adjust. I needed to adjust.

Making change

What to do? I would move into the larger bedroom in the middle of the house. The room needed a fresh coat of paint. I’d change the bedding, and rehang only the pictures I still wanted to see. I’d discard all of what Robert would never use again. 

But first, I had to confront this room which held  so many memories. I emptied Robert’s wardrobe onto our bed. I held up each item of clothing in turn and placed it in one of three piles: toss, donate, save.

Sorting the stuff of a life

Light curled around the frayed fleece vest Robert picked up on sale at The Gap over 20 years ago. He wore the vest on every outing we made to the coast when Jackson was little. I had repaired the vertical breast pocket repeatedly with effective, if not beautiful, machine stitching. Toss.

Here is the limp, faded jacket with the embroidered “Coach” applique, an honorarium given in recognition of his years of service to youth soccer. Toss. Here are the slip-on loafers he wore to walk the dog. The sole of the right shoe was separating at the heel. Toss.

When I was done there were three shirts in the save pile; perhaps they would fit Jackson. I transferred the donations to 5 trash bags for a run to Goodwill. I stuffed the “toss pile” directly into the garbage bin outside. All underwear, socks, and handkerchiefs went into the garbage. I glanced over saved magazine clippings, newspaper columns, and communications from work. Toss.

The hard stuff

I stumbled through Robert’s writing. I found reams and reams of notebooks, free papers, and stapled manuscripts squashed into cubbies and tiny voids all over the wardrobe. Would I ever look through these stacks again? Maybe not, but could I get rid of them? No. Robert was captured in these pages like an insect in amber. These fossils preserved him. This evidence would remain.

When the sorting was done, I piled the bags to donate into my car. Then I stripped the bed and began shuffling the furniture from one room to the other.

By the end of the following day, after Robert had left our home, I had repainted my new bedroom, rearranged the furniture that remained, and had a fitful sleep in my new space.

Of course, hiding the evidence doesn’t change the past. I knew this. But I also know me. I needed a hard reset. Grief is hard. But way harder and longer than I knew back then.


Recently, a friend shared a Ray Bradbury quote apropos to a world filled with outsize problems like climate change and income inequality, “Action is hope.” Might action also give us hope with personal problems like terminally ill husbands? Our small actions may not fix intractable problems, but they may free us to reclaim our agency in a difficult world. Tiny actions can help us dream again. I could not fix Robert. But I could begin to make space for a new life, with and without him.

2 thoughts on “When I found myself alone”

  1. I find I’m getting to know you as I read your stories. Thanks for the honesty and candor in the midst of your loss..❤️

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