People have been asking with increasing regularity recently when I plan to head south. It's a little like asking Mary Poppins when she plans to move on to the next family.
When the wind changes.
I'm sure there are those, many in fact, who go through everything right away when a spouse dies. I've seen them. When my grandfather died, my step-grandmother, his third wife, called my mother and uncle right away to come over and get what they wanted. In no time she had the house sold and moved in with her daughter.
The local funeral director told me he's seen spouses get rid of everything the next day, and families torn apart because of it.
Frankly, it wasn't my style. Or my time.
I freely confess that after making my seasonal migration to Florida last winter, somewhat delayed by my husband's unexpected death, I expected to organize, to purge, to move on with a somewhat cleaner if not blank slate.
I couldn't do it. I balled up those clothes in the closet and slept with them, a pair of comfy pajama bottoms that still carried that assuring mix of cologne and him, a fragrance I know well and don't want to lose. Taking all of that across the street to the church thrift center, donating it to charity or throwing it out in a dumpster didn't suit.
Particularly when a marriage is good, as mine was, we cling to those remnants of a life that provide us plausible deniability that the life has ceased.
Eventually, we turn to dresser drawers, elbow deep in socks without mates, wondering what became of all those beautiful socks at $12 a pair. Did the other run off to Florida, escape in a suitcase, find a better life somewhere with another sock, not quite its mate? Black, white, dark navy, beige, all a jumble in a drawer, below another drawer with neatly folded undershirts, Irish linen handkerchiefs he insisted on and pressed himself, and the occasional photo or greeting card tucked away for remembrance.
Amid the drawers, the cabinets, the corners of a life I continue to find things that this man left behind for me, a man who clearly knew his time was coming and left artifacts behind like breadcrumbs, a poem in his hand, a note of encouragement, a letter written early in our marriage, videotapes with my name taped across the back, all important now, all things that someone else not me, family or not, would never understand and never fully appreciate.
It had to be me who found them. It had to be me who sorted through it all, bit by bit, drawer by drawer, whether in its rightful place or not, archive, treasure, move, repurpose, restore.
The healing comes not in big pieces, but in little ones, slow, unsteady, a toddler wobbling on first legs.
These are the corporal works of mercy, he'd say.
I watched the Long Island medium on television and wondered what she'd say, if she stepped into my life, or I grabbed her like Whoopi Goldberg. Could a penny move up a door? "He wants you to know. . ." she'd say. "Please know this is his way of expressing. . ."
We want to believe they stay with us, we want to keep them here. We forget the times we were eager for some time alone, our own space, or failed to appreciate the genuine miracle of their presence.
Eventually, you get around to socks. Somewhere, somehow, they find new life, even without their mate.
There's a car to load, to service, to clean and to drive south, south for the winter, a life to find, to restore, to heal, drawers that are emptying, boxes that are filling, while the universe refuses to stop and take notice, one more life gone, one more going forward.
All in good time.