I remember thinking, “I can move that end table there, put the other one over there, so I will make room for this new table.”
I remember thinking, “I don’t really like those poppy dishes and the colored bowls, so if I donate them, then I can move my Birthday dishes (gift from Peggy last year) to the kitchen and then I can take my (1977) wedding dishes and make room for them on the dry sink.”
I remember thinking, “I have more hangers in Kevin’s old closet, so I can just push these summer clothes out of the way and make room to hang these new sweaters and tops.”
I remember thinking, “I can put a shelf up over that filing cabinet and then I can make room for those plaques and pictures.”
Do you ever do that? Make room, I mean? Sometimes I get rid (or let go) of stuff, but more often than not, trash turn into treasures, and junk becomes junque!
Within the past several months, I seem to have embedded the More is Merrier gene quite far into my psyche. I have (and have had for years) plenty of holiday decor, way more than enough, more than I can put up or take down by myself, more than is needed. But some of my kids and their families were coming to visit for Christmas. A quick trip to the thrift store, another short stop at the consignment store, a yard sale here and an estate sale there…before you know it, not only do 4 beds have Christmas-themed bedding, but so does the couch and the “new” rollaway. Every door – not just the front door – has a wreath and bells. Every room has at least one table-top, decorated Christmas tree (in addition to the two big Christmas trees… but in my defense, one of those trees is a Birthday Tree for a granddaughter whose special day is December 28). I can change table cloths and napkins and runners and doilies, not to mention hand towels in each bathroom, every day if I want to – without doing laundry for at least a week! The funny thing is that you can bring something home and put it up in a flash…but when it comes times to take it down and put it away, it takes days that turn into weeks to get it all sorted, wrapped, boxes, and hauled upstairs to the attic. It’s January 30 as I write this; I just saw this morning there is still one elf on top of the kitchen cabinet that I forgot.
So obviously, not every item gets displayed every year. That’s part of the fun, being able to change it up, depending on my mood, the company coming, the events planned (this year I hosted two Christmas parties in addition to the family guests), the staging at the consignment store, the idea that pops up when I watch a Hallmark Christmas movie, and my budget at the time.
My point is, I make room for what I want, and not just at Christmas time. Room has to be made for things I don’t necessarily “want,” either, but that are gifted to me (especially during the holiday season). And room also has to be made for the non-stuff, the unbidden, like memories. Since my husband died 8 years ago, I have been the one going to visit the kids for summer vacations, birthdays, and other holidays. They haven’t been here since the year he died. Eight years is a long time, but it’s not like I haven’t seen them or celebrated. But in my mind I connect his death with their last visit. So, of course, there were memories of the last time they were here and I was still in shock (he died Thanksgiving week that year).
I remember crying during gift opening that year; I probably cried other times, but I specifically remember opening a gift, a pillow my sister made for me from one of his old shirts. And I remember gasping and hugging it to me and it smelled like him and I cried out loud. This year I remember thinking how he would have loved to have all this excitement and commotion here for Christmas, but I didn’t cry. I had a very happy Christmas this year, one of the best ever, and I enjoyed telling him about it when I was recalling things days later.
What I have learned – it didn’t take me all 8 years to learn this, but the realization of this fact is newish – what I learned is that just like we make room for baubles and bowls and blankets and bigger stuff, we also make room for more memories. And that’s a huge chunk of what grief is about. We don’t “get over” someone; we don’t “get through” with the grieving process; we don’t “move on” with our lives. What we do is we make room. Room for new friends. Room for new memories. Room for new things. Room for new experiences. Room for more, even when we don’t know what the more will be.
When we grieve a loss, our attention is partly taken up with all the old memories and old dreams butting in, taking cuts to the front of the line of things we have room for in our heads. It’s a MAJOR disruption to the way things are and were supposed to be in the future. I also think that those memories aren’t just of the one who has passed away, but they are memories of other losses that chime in and sing “Me, too! Remember me! Don’t forget!” So the drawers and cubbies in our brains are full, and the overflow comes out as tears, or anger, or confusion because we have to make room for everything, sort it all out, protect some of it, let some things go, realign our expectations, wipe the dust away, and put in a current filter. Just like putting all the Christmas decorations on the dining room table to get a clear path from one room to another in the putting-away and de-Christmassing, we have a jumble of internal things that we have to make room for.
The good news is that it’s doable, although time consuming. How much you have to sort out and put away and make room for is different for everyone, depending on what you have and how you decide to go about the process. I have made room for more than new dishes or lamp stands. I’ve made room for grandchildren and dogs and friends, and happily saw that my heart expanded. I’ve made room for a camper and the adventures of travel, and saw my point of reference shift and my confidence grow. I’ve made room for retirement, and saw myself relax as my priorities shifted. I’ve made room hobbies, like more reading, and lived vicariously through characters and authors and places and times. I decided early on I was going to actively work my grieving, although I didn’t know what that work would be. Looking back, I see that a lot of it was giving myself permission to make room.
I’ve made choices about what to keep, what to pack away, what to keep on display, what to add, what to talk about, who to listen to or talk to, what filters I would use, what pressure I would put on myself to be “just me.” I still have old friends, and boxes of photographs, and shelves of favorite CDs and DVDs and books, and tchotchkes from high school and Army days, and bowls I love, and a Christmas cactus that was a gift in 1998, and a coat I wore when I was only a year old … among a trove of other treasures. I’ve made room for it all, old and new. I don’t know if there is life and Life ( think so, but who knows for sure?), but I don’t want to be stuck in this life waiting for that Life, when I could have made room for more life in the life I have now.
Some of my friends are retiring, and it has shocked them to discover they still have to have a plan for their days, that just waiting for things to happen isn’t all that great. Some of my friends have started to declutter their homes, feeling obligated to get along without things that matter to them because their kids won’t want the things they have collected or accumulated over their lifetimes. I don’t want to downsize; if anything, I might have to upsize!! I think my kids will figure out what to do with whatever possessions I leave behind, and it will be their problem (or joy?), not mine. I figure it’s the dues they pay for collecting the cash, plus the reward for having a mom with such eclectic tastes! I’m not going to waste the room I have in my memory bank worrying about what they might think 20 or 30 (God willing) years from now. I’m going to make room for the lavish abundance of the Universe.
I can’t say my grief over Kevin’s death is done, since I believe that the next “loss” will inevitably bring up past experiences and losses. What I can say is that what worked for me to regain focus, find enjoyment, and become full again was to not shut out the world but to make room for Life. Lots of room!
Denise Bridges said:
This is a great column! Loved it!