About a year and a half ago, my husband Nick and I (he was then my boyfriend) moved into our apartment together. One day later, covid hit, and pandemic rules went into effect, making it almost impossible to shop for or receive furniture, bed, and other things we needed for our new place. Amazon became our best friend, and soon our apartment was filled with boxes and stuff and piles of things that needed unpacking, putting together, and attention paid to.
Whenever boxes would arrive, I started to notice that I was very quick to take the items out of the boxes, and sit down at our kitchen table with a pocket knife and cut the cardboard up into pieces, getting it ready for the recycle bin. It seemed that too many boxes in the apartment piled up, or too much stuff, was making me anxious and very stressed out, and the act of slicing them into pieces somehow felt therapeutic to me. At first, I figured it was just the normal stresses of moving and having everything all over the place that was making me anxious. But then, fast-forward to New Years Eve 2020, where we got married and my boyfriend became my husband, and then we started our search for a house which was months of looking and 12 offers on 12 houses until finally finding and landing our perfect 3-bedroom ranch oasis , closing on it Aug 26th. Now, here we are again, moving , surrounded by boxes again, and piles of things and stuff and packing and unpacking. On one particular day about a month or so ago, somewhere around the 4th or 5th Amazon box delivery of the day that was slowly invading our kitchen and den space, I had a breakdown. Right in the middle of slicing up one of the boxes, I felt overwhelmed by sudden grief, and I just started sobbing.
A decade into this thing, and Im still sometimes mystified by what grief can do, how powerful it is, and how much it remembers. It remembers things that I don’t, until I start crying hysterically while angrily tearing down boxes. It turns out that me getting extremely anxious and stressed around having boxes and things and piles had nothing at all to do with the stresses of moving, and everything to do with grief.
Back in July of 2011, in the immediate days and weeks and months of Don’s sudden death, our tiny and cramped apartment got even more cramped by boxes, things, piles, and stuff. Boxes of his things that were slowly being put away in boxes or containers to be dealt with later. His “stuff” strewn about the living room and the kitchen, and in our bedroom, surrounding me everywhere I went, in every room, every step reminding me in the cruelest ways that his stuff remained, and he was no longer here. All of Don’s life was in boxes and bags, and even Don himself was delivered to me in a box – his ashes looming there until I could figure out how to breathe again in this new reality. The life I knew was gone, and every wall and every inch and every room was enveloping me in massive and horrific grief.
The neverending boxes and deliveries and piles of things that dont have a home yet, was obviously happening for a different reason with my husband Nick. I knew that, buy my body reacted differently, and those grief triggers took over and played on my anxieties and fears. Along with that was the knowing in my deepest places that Nick and I were now married and planning our lives together, planning for the next thing, buying a house. Knowing that in the months before Don died, we were planning for the next thing in our lives together – talking and planning and figuring out the “how to’s” of buying a home or condo, where we wanted to settle, the possibilities of adopting or having our family, and more. Just as the wheels were in motion of putting together what was next for us, the life we knew was over in the time it takes to be jarred awake from the deep sleep of those who are naive to great loss.
All of this was living inside my body, and inside all of those boxes, every single time they would arrive. As the boxes got torn down by me and put away somewhere unseen, my levels of sadness and overwhelm and panic started to go down. Sitting at the table and cutting up the boxes myself was my way of feeling like I had some control over something, since there is zero control when sudden death happens. Zero warning, zero say, zero planning, zero seconds to figure out the next thing. Just zero.
Now, here we are, moving into our new house, and boxes and things and stuff everywhere. I am extremely happy about our new home, and about our future together. It is also very easy to go to that place of “when is it all going to fall apart again?” “when is he going to randomly die?” “If Im too happy, will everything disappear?” These are the mind games that happen, sometimes unconsciously, and other times obvious through how my body feels and reacts.
My grief sits in boxes. The boxes are carried, they are sliced up, they are unpacked, they are broken down. And if Im being brutally honest, I cannot wait to be finished moving into our home, so that these grief-filled boxes can lay low for awhile, and I can have back some much needed peace.