Sunday morning I decided to clean out my pajama drawer. Knowing I tend to be a bit of a clothes hoarder (imagine if I’d saved all my clothes from the 80’s!), I went about my task with the internal mantra, “If you haven’t worn the item in one year give it away.”
That philosophy worked well until I dumped a pile of clothes on the floor to sort, and found Phil’s boxers.
For some reason, I can remember exactly when I purchased these underwear for him. The mischievous smile on his face when he received them as a ‘just because’ gift comes easily to mind. His quick comment, “Honey, you know I don’t wear underwear,” which was loudly stated in order to horrify the kids almost rings in my ears. Every other time I have cleaned drawers or moved house these boxer shorts were tossed into the ‘items to keep’ pile. There wasn’t a question when it came to this clothing item, until today.
The boxers are falling apart. In fact, I’ve worn these boxers a million times more than Phil ever did. In those first few months after he died, I was afraid to wear any of his clothes because I didn’t want his smell to waft away. Eventually, desperation to feel surrounded by him led me to wear one of Phil’s sweatshirts, and the resulting feeling of his nearness flooded me with comfort. After that day I wore his clothing nearly every day.
His favorite USC t-shirt became my kick around the house shirt, his boxers I made into my pajama bottoms by rolling them over twice at the waist and not caring at all about my sagging bottoms. Running tights and pullovers became my cold weather running gear despite the fact that they were all huge on me. I soaked up Phil’s love and energy every time I pulled on his clothing, and when his boxers fell out of the pile of clothes today, I felt as if my heart skipped a beat.
Phil died ten and a half years ago. The boxers in the photo above have been worn so often since he died that they have a hole in the bum and the seams are all frayed. Rolling them over twice to make them fit me no longer works because the elastic has stretched to the point where wearing them makes me feel like a teen whose pants need to be pulled up. So, over the past couple of years these treasured boxers have sunk down to the bottom of the pajama drawer.
Many widowed people are questioned about their choices regarding what they keep of their loved one’s belongings, and how long they hold onto their personal items like clothes, shoes, toothbrushes, perfumes, purses, tools, cars…you know, the list is endless. I am a firm believer that each person will know how and when to gift, giveaway or treasure the physical items that belong to the person for whom they long. There just isn’t a time frame or a logical method that can be applied to all circumstances. Each grieving person has to find their own style for handling the myriad physical items that remain after someone we love dies.
As I sat on the floor of my closet considering whether to put the boxers back in my drawer or to put them in the *gasp* trash pile I realized that the boxers are not memory keepers. Ten years of living after Phil’s death has taught me that memories are fickle things. Sometimes I can’t remember Phil’s cell phone number. On the other hand, every once in awhile a song or a place will bring back an experience that Phil and I shared in such a powerful way, I feel as if I am time traveling. Not being able to predict what I remember or when I will have the power of recall on which I once relied to prove that my memories were safe has freed me from the fear that I will forget my life with Phil. Memories aren’t stored in Phil’s physical items or even in photographs, they live in my heart.
I will never forget the feeling of safety I felt in Phil’s arms. His brilliant smile and mischievous sense of fun are legend in our family. As my daughter and I train for and run a variety of races, his advice and coaching is never far from our minds. Ten years after his death Phil is part of my every day life. While specific memories fade in and out the overpowering sense of him remains.
I threw away his boxers today, and I didn’t feel empty. Instead I felt him laughing at me and saying, “Those things look awful, it’s about time you threw them out!”
Yet, as I write this blog I am wearing his favorite gym shorts, the day to let go of them hasn’t yet arrived.