At the moment I am trying to wade through some difficult feelings brought on by some recently revisited trauma. It’s been one of those situations where there is a strange, anxious, physical vibration in your very core. While this has been happening, I have been aimlessly drifting from household chores to outside garden, weeding out old clothes and pulling out rampant weeds, trying to ground myself. Yesterday I started taking things off a closet door hook that was layered with clothing, when I came across The Robe at the bottom of the heap. How the story of The Robe ties into everything else is sort of a meandering, circuitous mind-maze, but I will try to get it down here.
My process of dealing with loss has two very strong opposing sides. When I lose someone important to me, be it a relationship loss or through death, I am capable and responsible for doing what needs to be done. I can arrange a funeral, pack up their stuff, clean out the house, take care of legal business, bury a pet, disperse ashes, go to work and do my job, take care of my children, wade through all the muck that comes up dealing with the practicalities of that kind of major upheaval. I can keep myself busy and at least try to distance myself emotionally while the business occurs. I can immerse myself in the task at hand. As long as I keep moving through it, I can deal with it, or at least give the appearance of such, while trying not to acknowledge the feeling. But once I stop the action and am standing still, emotionally I don’t deal well with death and loss at all. I do not go quietly into the loss. I fall into the pit of despair. I get edgy. I can’t get off the floor. I over-react. I lose sleep. I weep at the least provocation . It takes a long time to get through it. I am haunted. In some cases I have never gotten over it.
The psychic connection of physical possessions has been mentioned sporadically throughout this blog. It’s not that the actual “thing” is necessarily so important as the connection to person or event connected to the thing that vibrates for me. Pretty much everything in my sphere reminds me of someone, of an incident or adventure, which often brings pleasure and smiles. Sometimes it brings sadness. But that is part of life too. A refrigerator magnet that reflects a trip with someone through the southwest. A little diner style coffee cup that was in a departed friend’s cupboard. A necklace that was gifted to me. An interesting stone. A shell. A pair of earrings. Textile art made by a friend. Photographs. A woven pillow. A red phone cube connector from a friend’s house. A metal tin that holds pins. A pair of pants bought on a trip together with a sister. These things surround and embrace me, melding their own stories into my life journey and enriching it. I see everyone who has touched these things and touched my life in everything around me.
Some of these items have their own strange and difficult history. A few of my father’s shirts, ties and handkerchiefs still remain in the house. I don’t know why they need to be here. I have his artwork and his writing and some photos, which leave a much clearer comprehensive picture of who he was. I have some thoughtful, caring gifts from him that I treasure. Yet there is something about the clothing that also reflects the Essence of Dad.
For a long time there was an ironed, white dress shirt that belonged to an Ex that hung in my closet. While he pretty much abandoned everything in our life that we had accumulated together when he left, leaving me living among plenty of physical reminders in the wreckage, it was the only article of actual clothing of his that remained. Although it had no discernable scent, if I put my face to it, whatever primitive olfactory processes still reside in our brains could still detect his presence. It would cause some sort of mini-explosion in my head. It would give me goose-bumps. It would bring tears to my eyes. And it would flood me with an overwhelming, painful grief. I didn’t want it, but I couldn’t part with it either. So it would go back in the closet and get lost among everything else crammed in there, eventually forgotten, only to suddenly and surprisingly resurface again on another day and again be stuffed back into the darkest recesses of the closet again. Eventually I donated that shirt. I knew this was not one of those healthy things to hold on to. But it was a very slow process I had to work though in order to get to that point. I have learned to respect my own processes.
And that brings me around again to the story of The Robe. Years ago, my siblings and I traveled from three different states to converge in a fourth state to attend to our mother bedside when she was on the verge of leaving this earth. On the day following her passing, two of the siblings needed to get on planes and immediately return to their young children and jobs. They would not be returning until we had a memorial service at some undetermined time down the road. And so we felt we should probably go through some of her most personal and valuable things and take them with us before they left, instead of leaving those things in an empty condominium for who knows how long. I will add that this was a terrible, traumatic task to be doing so quickly. It felt almost vulturous, although it was necessary to act on some of it in the moment. Also I think we all needed to hold onto something of hers amid the surrealness and vacuum left in her wake.
The value of what she owned was mostly emotional instead of monetary. Our mother was a practical woman who only had a few classic pieces of tasteful, neutral jewelry and clothing, none of which she wore anymore. There were some important documents we would need immediately. Aside from those immediacies, she had a vast library of art books, artwork on her walls, some of it her own. Dishes from our childhood, some old furniture. She kept everything neat, crisp, clean and tidy.
We split up her small amount of jewelry between us. There was not much we wanted from her closet. By that point in her life she was not going out much, so her wardrobe consisted of cozy sweatpants, housecoats and slippers. Anything we took from there, a sweater or sweatshirt, would just be in order to feel physically close to Mom. As we were sorting through these things and making piles for ourselves or to donate, I pulled out a heavy cotton nightgown and bathrobe set that looked pretty new, almost as if it had never been worn. I usually wear an old ratty hoodie sweatshirt around the house in lieu of a bathrobe. I’m not a bathrobe kind of a person. But I figured the nightie and robe might be a useful thing to have for the winter, kind of an upgrade, especially since it was in great condition and also because it had been hers. So I put it in my take-home pile.
Suddenly my sister Charlotte flew into a rage and started screaming at me, with all the built up grief and pressure that losing your mother just hours before can do to you. “I gave that to Mom!!!! That was MY present to Mom!!!!” Well, OK! Sorry! I didn’t know! This is absolutely not a problem at all. I handed it to her. I don’t need it. It’s yours, it belongs to you, if it means something to you, please take it. I didn’t think anyone would care about it. The connection was hers, not mine. I thought that was the end of it. But the issues with Charlotte always ran far deeper. Whatever childhood resentments, competitiveness, whatever she held inside her just exploded out, triggered by our mother’s death, and I was her target – which was not the first time. She was like some seething, wounded animal. The next morning, all of us broken and in a daze, we got into our cars, got to the airports and traveled back to our homes, our jobs, our families, children and our new reality.
A few weeks later a package arrived for me in the mail. When I opened it up, inside was the nightgown and the bathrobe set. There was no note included. I wasn’t sure if she sent it as a form of apology. Maybe she suddenly realized that it was too hot where she lived in the south to be wearing a heavy nightgown and bathrobe. Maybe she really was remorseful. She had been so verbally abusive and hostile to me that at this point I didn’t want it. I wrapped it up and sent it back to her.
A few weeks later the robe and nightie arrived in a package on my doorstep again. I sent it back again. This happened a number of times, I don’t even recall how often we sent it back and forth. We never discussed it. And I have to tell you that as I type this I am both smiling and welling up a bit with tears, which has always been the case when it comes to the situation between Charlotte and myself. Finally I relented and just took the package. I hung the robe in my closet and wore the nightgown. I think the nightie must have worn out, because I save clothing for years, yet I don’t seem to have the nightie anymore. The bathrobe is still hanging in the closet on a hook under a pile of stuff. I still wear an old hoodie around the house, not a bathrobe, so it never gets worn and is rarely seen. But I have kept it. It does not have an invisible scent like that shirt did that sends my senses into a hyper-alert, but visually it sets something emotional in motion.
Charlotte passed away years ago. I have very few physical reminders of her. Some photographs. A silver bracelet my father gifted each of us – we used to wear them together every time we planned to see each other. Now I have both hers and mine. I wear them both together on her birthday. A tiny gold squirrel charm that my mother gave her when we were young, because she was very squirrel-like. A pair of little bronze squirrels that I had gifted her and came back to me, for the same reason. And The Robe, a representation of words and emotions that were never able to be expressed. Extending grace and compassion is a difficult thing to do after you have been hurt. Lately I have been challenged in this department. The re-emergence of The Robe has sent my thoughts in a stream of different directions.
Yesterday morning I wore the bathrobe for the first time in years. I am going to try to wear it more, perhaps sit on the porch in our back-and-forth robe, drink some coffee, eat some raspberries and process the complicated and emotional nature of relationships.