Archive for October 18th, 2011

Of course losing sentimental items is by far the hardest part of a tragedy like ours.  Some things really are just things, and can be replaced.  The problem with that is that there are so MANY of them, and you don’t realize how many and much they cost and how long it took you to acquire them all, bit by bit, until suddenly you have none of them.

I have Target cards (thank you all very much!!) and we are working on replacing the practical items.  But I can only take so much shopping at once before I begin to shut down.  We have already done four big Walmart trips.  By the last one I no sooner had walked in the store than I wanted to leave.  We noticed that the longer we were in that place the slower we were walking.  In particular trips into the bathroom aisle where I was confronted with the task of matching garbage cans and bathmats made me just turn around and leave the aisle, overwhelmed.

People ask me all the time what I still need.  It gets harder and harder to explain because a lot of what we are needing now–and it’s still a lot– are the things that you don’t remember you need until they are not there.  Like when I am stabbing John in the leg with my toenails and realize that we don’t have nail clippers.  Or when two toilets were clogged at once and I had to go out to buy plungers.  Or when there were sticky spots on the kitchen floor and I realized we didn’t have a mop.  Or when I took the pizza out of the oven and had to saw it into slices with a steak knife because my awesome Pampered Chef pizza cutter burned up. Or when I sit down to work at night and it is too dark to see with only overhead lights.

Because people are still (thank you, thank you!) bringing us meals periodically, I have not been forced to make a big grocery trip.  So I have salt and pepper, but no garlic.  I have olive oil, but no Pam or canola oil.  I have baking soda ( at Willie’s request, in case of fire) but no flour.  I have a freezer full of leftover barbecue, but no steaks or chicken or fish or frozen vegetables.  It is going to take hours to do the coupons and hours to do the shopping, and it wears me out just to think about it.

We’ll get there.  We take little trips every few days.  And we are so lucky to have the resources to be able to replace these things.  And we have the opportunity to organize as we go, and to not make some of the mistakes we made in the past, which is wonderful. But it’s a big job.

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On the loss of all we owned, someone commented to me, “You unburdened yourselves.”

True, although not on purpose.  A lot of stuff we lost is better off as ashes, probably.  I wouldn’t have chosen this method of decluttering/downsizing, but it worked.  I don’t have to read that two foot high stack of magazines.  We don’t have to sort through those three boxes of old financial information in the office.  John doesn’t have to make files for that stack of stuff on his desk that he never knew what to do with.  We don’t have to clean out and organize the garage.  We don’t have to clean the house from top to bottom.  I won’t have to stress out over where to put out all the Christmas decorations and it won’t take any time at all to take them down and put them away on Epiphany.

This forced unburdening gives us an opportunity to reflect on our relationship to stuff and how we want it to change or not going forward.  And it’s confusing.  John and I talk about it a lot.  Are we supposed to be learning some kind of lesson from this?  Is it wrong to like having things and to be attached to them?  Should we buy as little as possible?  We are both feeling reluctant right now to get attached to anything.  Should we replace things–books, for example, or collectibles?  Or should we get all new things?  If the book isn’t the book I always had from my childhood, or the one that belonged to my grandmother, would it even be the same?  I have spent so many hours sorting through the clothes that we saved over the years–culling the best garments, sorting them by gender and size.  Since in retrospect all that time was wasted, does that mean I shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place?

So far, I find myself trying hard not to care about the new possessions we are acquiring.  I let other people arrange my furniture.  I told my sister to decide what pictures looked good where.  I let a friend organize my entire kitchen.  I look around this nice house filled with unfamiliar items and feel more like a lucky guest at a great hotel than someone in her own home.  I feel afraid of committing myself to buying things that I might actually come to care about.

Is this a healthy detachment from material goods, or is it a symptom of trauma?

[Six years later, albeit in a considerable more cluttered house, I am still wondering.]

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On Losing Everything

What’s so terrible about losing everything (okay, let me just say that there is LOTS that is terrible about losing everything) is that “everything” is too big to grasp or think of or remember all at once.  I KNOW I lost everything–every MATERIAL thing–I ever owned, collected, saved, cherished, treasured, hoarded, bought, was given, made, wrote, cared about.  I know this intellectually and have known it since I was told my house had burned down.

But I can’t think what everything encompasses all at once.  There were things that leapt into my mind immediately–the pictures (which is the first thing everyone mentions), the baby clothes, my wedding dress, my grandmother’s portrait.  But not a day goes by (honestly, it happens several times most days) that I don’t suddenly remember some cherished item and think, “That’s gone too.”  Pictures my kids drew–all of them.  John’s nutcracker collection.  The two complete books I wrote as a teenager.  My Eloise Wilkin picture book collection.  The Uncle Lem painting.  The dress I wore when I graduated from college.  The Global Babies picture book I bought for the baby that we lost.  My Barbie dolls and my mother’s storybook dolls.

Going shopping for new things, which ought to be fun, is tainted by sad thoughts as I walk through the aisles and everywhere see reminders of the things I used to have.  Going out with high school friends brings painful reminders of my yearbooks and my clippings and all the notes my friends wrote me and the drawings I made of them.  Hearing people talk about all the clutter in their houses and all the stuff they need to get rid of, thinking about decorating for Christmas, visiting other people’s homes and seeing their family portraits and decorations–all of these stab me through the heart, more or less.

Sometimes the realization of something that is gone will hit me suddenly, brought on by a remark someone has made.  Like the other day, when I suddenly remembered the love letters in my dresser drawer-one of the few times I was actually brought to tears by one of these memories.  Other times, I obsessively walk my way mentally through the house and force myself to remember.

The kids all seem to have moved on.  John doesn’t let himself think about it.  I can’t do that, and I’m not sure it’s healthy, at least for me.

Nobody died.  We have a new house.  People have so, so generously furnished it for us.  We have everything we need.  Yes, we are getting settled in.  Things are getting more normal (that “new normal” you hear about).  But I am still sad and angry and missing my stuff. [Update: Six years later, still hurts although obviously not as bad–and I still occasionally remember some item and mourn its loss specifically for the first time.]

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