Over the past few weeks, I have been sorting and gathering. Tiny outfits. Bedding. Toys. Car seat covers. Bibs. Bottles. Books. Bags. Pumps. Blankets. All the things that make up the anticipated life of a little boy. It’s been an interesting part of this journey, the gathering. Because in this case, I know I am gathering not to use, but to give. It’s a natural thing, to give things you can no longer use to someone who can. This is good. And heartfilling. And makes room in your house, and maybe in your heart, for more of something…more possessions but at the best of times more love. Now, put a twist on it. What if those things were things you never got to use? What if they were all about anticipation and never about realization? What then? Because it sure feels like instead of filling your heart or your house up it makes for another empty space. You’ve grown comfortable with empty spaces…maybe not content, but comfortable. Comfortable with the understanding that most of these spaces can never be filled. You just have to learn to live with them. So isn’t it interesting that suddenly the space taken up by material things, which in many ways have absolutely no value to your heart, feels so very very important and hard to let go of? I know why. Because if you pack these things up and bring them outside your house it means that he’s never coming home. Which of course you understand in your head. But your heart is a different matter. I have talked to many grieving mothers. Each say that somehow the hope and joy and love that becomes attached to those things is what makes it hard to part with them. Some never have. Some did after a time. Some kept a few and gave the rest. Some sold them. Some threw them away. Some burned them. I can see the reasoning behind each of those actions. I don’t know what has gotten me to the point where I thought they needed to go…at least most of them. I kept a few tangible things, mostly things that were with us and with Bennie while he lived. There is an attachment there. A proof that yes, he lived and he used or had these things with him. That is important. So much of what we had for him was, like many new parents, overkill. Extra. Too much for someone so small who was to live in a small room in a small house. Those pieces were easy to sort because I knew that even if he had come home he would likely not have used them anyway. I deftly went through bins and bags and packed them up for dispersal. Nothing to it. I could do this. I would do this. Easy.
Then, there were those in between things…things we bought specifically for him, things that came from particularly special people in our (and his) lives. Things that were handmade and full of love. What about those things? Do we keep them all? If we don’t, then what? How do we decide? And really, after all the things we’ve had to decide (not one of which has been easy or simple), how can we decide MORE? It’s too much in lots of ways. Too hard because like every step of this journey, the longer we go around the sun the further we are from his life on earth. That’s a hard one to swallow. And the “stuff”, if kept, somehow keeps the anticipation of that life alive, even if he is not. Tricky. Like all of it. Heavy. Too much to take in. But, somehow, we must.
So, a bit more slowly you sort those things that are a bit more dear. In so many ways, like much of this, the process is harder than the end result. It’s harder to think about giving things away than it will probably be to do it. It’s harder to think about the first holidays without him than perhaps the actual day. It’s harder to think about how people might be around you than how they actually are…sometimes at least! There are exceptions to this of course. But for me, often the anticipation is worse than the action. Though, in this case, the action actually ends one part of the anticipation…that anticipation of life…so that can spin your head around a bit. Anyhow, this morning I woke up early. I made some calls. I found a place that could use the things I had to offer. I wrote a few cards for the recipients, telling them a little bit about my son and why I hope these things can help. I sat with my kitties on the sunny screen porch and ate some breakfast and listened to the birds and took in the flowers and plants. I loaded my car. I felt ready. And strong. And good. And I drove, first to the doctor and then to meet my sweet mother who had agreed to come with me on this part of the journey. We ate some lunch. We shopped a little. And then it was time to go. We drove to the shelter. We asked for a cart. We loaded it up. We brought it in. We got a tax receipt. It all seemed simple.
And then, I had to get out. I needed air. I couldn’t breathe. Because suddenly, the anticipation of that life was gone. In a concrete way. I went outside and cried, big gulping tears that were quickly absorbed in my mother’s shoulder. And she rubbed my back just like when I was young. And she listened to my grief and didn’t try to say it would be ok because of course it wouldn’t. And we stood in the sun, in front of a shelter, letting the sadness and loss wash over us together. It was hard. But in the end, it was good. We talked about wanting to understand a reason why we had to learn this now, in this life. We talked about a family in my hometown who was just starting this journey with the loss of a son who was 18 and on his way to college and the anticipation of a life not fully lived but from a different angle. And then, I wiped my tears away and took a deep breath and we drove to do some more shopping. Not because it was important, but because life moves on and so must we. And sometimes, even when we are 35, we all need our mothers.
After I got home, I thought about the day and how in the end it was healing in a way. To know that the little outfits, the nursery things, the “stuff” of Bennie’s life could be useful for another. That is good. That is happy. That makes me smile. He gave lots of love in his little life and wasn’t I lucky to receive it? That’s what’s important. That’s what matters. Time, no matter how short, can change things. Love, no matter how small the vessel, can make a difference. And sometimes, when you think you’ve got nothing left to give, that’s when it’s the most important to do it. It fills you up, even some of the empty spaces.