I want to schedule an appointment with Grief. We really need to talk about some boundaries here. My life has been invaded. This is a hostile takeover I have not planned for. I long for Adrenaline to come and fetch me on its rollercoaster. To not remember how you drank your Earl Grey tea scalding hot in the morning so that you had to slurp it. It used to irritate me endlessly. Now I will suffer that sound gladly. The sitting room is quiet without it.
My email inbox has been invaded too. I am informed that I have won the jackpot in the Netherlands. I could order meals from home that “Gogo” made and Uber would deliver it. LinkedIn wants to assist me to expand my network, and I am invited to do a quote on a government website for an event. Several people want to loan me money or offer to improve the quality of my blog writing. Then, among the junk mail, your name pops up and it tells me that this email is no longer in use. Psalm 30:5 says that weeping may endure for a night. Weeping has no business with what time of the day or night it is. Weeping has become uncapped. I have unlimited 24-hour access, free of charge.
Everything in life works with rules. Imagine the chaos if it was not specified that we drive on a certain side of the road. Can I not specify that the slow lane of the road is the one Grief drives in and I have right of way to bypass it in the fast lane? But no, Grief drives in all the lanes of the road and even goes off-road like the taxis, when deemed necessary. It simply has no respect for me nor does it show me any courtesy. I have learnt by now that there is one unfailing trigger in any task that concerns your death, my Beloved. Whenever I talk to an administrative person and I have to use the words: “My husband died on the 30th of May,” I burst into tears without fail. Amidst the tasks of death is communication with your cell phone company. Every month they email me a bill and every month I email your death certificate back to them. After three months I arrived at the conclusion that this is not working. On my next unavoidable trip to a shopping mall, I decide to stand in the queue of your cell phone company store. I get to the front of the queue and the assistant asks with a friendly voice: “How can I improve your day?” My immediate thought is: “By returning my husband from death to life.” I realise that I should rather not voice my need and revert to my trigger-sentence, “My husband died on the 30th of May.” My voice crescendos into tears and I dive into my handbag in search of tissues while the poor man realises that whatever service he could render to me, it would definitely not improve my day. After I calmed myself down sufficiently, he explained that my emails go to an automated system. I walk out of the store with the victory of an email address manned by a human being and one email less in my inbox next month.
I decide to take responsibility for driving on ‘my side’ of the road and make a list of tasks involving living without you and tasks involved with the practical implications of your death. A task of living is connection with other humans that are still alive and so I contact a friend who has also lost her husband, to have lunch together. The task I chose for this week for dealing with your death, was facing your clothes in the cupboard. I take your favourite shirt off its hanger. I hold it under my nose. It does not smell of you anymore after three and a half months. I meticulously take all of your clothes out of the cupboard and put them in different bundles on the kitchen floor. I feel like I have spilled you on the floor. I pick every bundle up and put them on the bed in the sanctuary. My washing machine works overtime until both washing lines are full of clean wet clothes. I cannot stop washing. There are more bundles left. I lay some clothes on the stoep table to dry. I stack washing on the chairs and turn them to the sun. I need all the support I can get for my cause of drying your washing.
You need to understand that I am not someone who gets excited about dry, sun-kissed washing. Laundry does not do it for me. Today is different. It is like every shirt, every unpair sock, requires my attention. I clear the sitting room table of my laptop and papers. I even wipe it with a wet cloth. Then I fold every shirt and remember how you looked in it and when you wore it. There are work clothes and home clothes. The folding becomes a ritual of saying goodbye. My tears flow unceasingly. I did not know I could cry about clothes.
I made an appointment with a dear friend who heads up the ministry at one of our local hospitals. They have a clothing bank for accident patients who do not have clothes to wear when they are released to go home. Sometimes they do a second-hand clothes sale to fund expenses of the ministry. I am glad to support this good cause. I load all the bags in the car. A box of tissues is on the front seat next to me. I pull up all my sluices and warn my tears to stay behind the dam walls. I need to be able to see the road ahead of the car. I arrive at the indicated entrance and my friend and her husband meet me there. Friendly staff help to carry all the bags inside. In the corridor there is an old bench that looks like the church benches of our first congregation – hard and uncomfortable. I expected to walk to the safety of the clothing store. Those in front of me put their bags down on the hard bench and my friend indicates to me to do the same. I carry your suit and some of the ties you never wore anymore. It is hard to put it down. My friend assures me that the sister would come with the key for the store. She says to the personnel that assisted us that these are very precious items and her team will come to sort it in the next week.
We walk back to the cars. My tears are now unruly and start spilling over their dam walls. I did not want to leave you alone on a hard hospital bench in the corridor. I have to remind myself that it was only clothes. I did not leave ‘you’ there, my Beloved. In fact, you never cared much about dressing up. You now reside in heaven where you have no need for clothes. Your clothes are part of my pictures of you. It had the privilege of hugging your body for a while. I will always have access to my memories of you wearing these earthly outfits. Your clothes will now serve many others. Somebody might get married in your suit or attend a funeral of a loved one looking dignified with one of your ties. Your clothes will serve others after your death as you served people with compassion while you were alive. I drive home after the comfort of having a meal with our friends. I arrive home. Your cupboards are empty. I feel sad. I also feel lighter. The luggage of life can turn into baggage. Today I was not kidnapped by Grief. I partnered with it. I am cleaning up to travel light. It is the right thing to do. I will walk forward with our photo album in my heart.
Luke 12:22b-23 “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothes.”