Cleaning Out His Closet - Processing the Loss of a Parent
The Business of Cleaning Out
I was not yet in bawling mode. I was still in that protected, out-of-body place I'd been in for the last week. I was just taking care of business, more business, just different business.
As I walked into the cottage, everything seemed so normal. I stopped, smelling his presence. I smelled it, but wasn't sure if it was part of the rooms or if the smell was stuck in my nostrils. The smell of dying is sticky.
I went back out to the car to get the box of giant trash bags and then back out to get the LL Bean bags and cardboard boxes Mike had packed for me.
Putting them in the center of the open-planned living/dining/kitchen floor, I looked around but now I had invaded the normalcy of his place with objects meant to take away. And it made me freeze. I was not ready for this, despite all my smiling and the philosophically soothing phases I'd been saying.
Starting with the Closet
I began to breathe faster and my ears filled with buzzing cotton and I my face turned cold with the tears. I didn't mean any of those soothing, end-of-life things. I desperately, selfishly, in this very moment wanted my daddy back.
With the tears still streaming down my face, blubbering so loud the ancient man next door must have heard me, I went to my father’s storage closet, figuring this was the easiest, least emotionally charged part of the cottage to empty.
But I was wrong. The shelf at eye level was filled with his medicines. I'd done my research and knew I'd need to empty the bottles and get rid of the pills separately. I grabbed for the first bottle and found a note. It was a check list of each of his medicines and when he needed to refill them.
My hand shook and I howled even harder as I thought of him meticulously checking of the boxes with his shaking hand for each of the twelve medications. I stared at the list, studying each little check mark, hearing his voice say the names of each medicine as I'd hear him say him say them so many times in the ER. Although he'd been physically feeble, he'd been so good about managing this part of his health, unburdening me of this tedious task.
Then I came to his pill boxes, the ones you hope you'll never need, little boxes marked with each day of the week and then either AM or PM. He had four weeks of these. As I opened each little plastic box, dumping them into the trash bag, I realized he had them all preloaded in anticipation of at least another month of living. I cried thinking of my father with his swollen, bruised hands, opening each box and each medicine bottle and carefully putting each pill in its appropriate place.
I managed to get through the medicines, and his packets of hearing aid batteries. I didn’t want to decide about anything more; this was all I could do right now.
So I wandered through the four rooms - pacing back and forth, touching his things.
I touched his clothes, all neat and dapper, hung in the closet. They were all pressed, like new. I pulled each drawer open. They were full of briefs and t-shirts - some still in the plastic packaging, sweaters he’d bought, and some that remained from a previous life, work shirts he hadn’t worn since he’d moved here. I smelled them; they were a mixture of cedar and memories of cutting wood with him in the forest.
I picked up the photo of my mother and dad, smiling after my wedding.
I sat on the bed, all prim with new sheets and blankets he'd picked out. Stared at the new custom curtains he’d just put up. Dad had been so proud of his choices. HIS choices and no one else's.
I fingered the pitcher of water on his night stand, already covered with dust.
Getting up again, I wandered back to the full trash bag, grabbed it and locked the door behind me. After all, there was no rush.