Monday, July 6, 2009

On the Last Major Piece

It has been two years and four and a half months since my wife’s death.

For the first three months I merely survived and picked up the pieces - at least the ones that had fallen within my grasp. At the end of the third month, however, I had to begin the process of moving forward in that I had to start physically sifting through her belongings.

Beginning with her classroom.

A close friend who also taught at the same school came by and helped me pack up those items of hers that I did not donate to the school – mostly personal effects and some books from her classroom library to give to my daughter as she gets older. It was all boxed up and carted into my bedroom where it was transferred from box to box throughout the summer as I had the time and energy to go through it.

Thus began a process that was mostly finalized in November of last year. Yes, it took me over a year and a half to go through my wife’s classroom items, clothes, and all of the other things that she so enjoyed. I kept some pieces for my daughter, but there was simply too much for us to want or need to keep, so on an overcast Saturday last fall, I finally removed the last of her things from the house.

In a way it was a relief to finally have come to that point in this journey. Not because I was glad to have done it, but rather because I was glad to have it done. It had gotten to the point that the things I had chosen not to keep were an obstacle to overcome, while the things I had chosen to keep were in their rightful places, as they are to this day, where I could gain some sense of enjoyment from them. The house was finally a place where my daughter and I could live and move forward, while remaining filled with the accoutrements that my wife had used to turn our house into a home.

So the house was complete, but there was still one major piece left to deal with: my car.

In June of 2001, just a month before we walked down the aisle, we purchased what came to be known as “the blue car”. Which was ironic in that the car my wife brought into the marriage was also blue. In retrospect, I think we initially referred to them as “the Olds” and “the Topaz” until we sold the other car the next spring.

But I digress.

We purchased the car in my wife’s hometown, the same city we got married in (and ironically, the city we will be spending her birthday in later this month). We traded in my mid-80’s Mustang which was down to its last horse and bought it for a reasonable price for two almost newlyweds who were lacking full-time jobs at the time (I was finishing grad school and she began teaching that fall).

And it was a good car.

It took us on our honeymoon to what would become our future home state and back again eight months later to apply for jobs. It returned just a year after its purchase on a tow-dolly behind our moving van. It was the car that sat in the parking lot of our apartment complex, but looked so much more “at home” in front of our newly purchased house nine months later. It was the car that took our dog to the vet for his final visit and the one that carried our daughter safely home from her first day at day care. It transported me to and from work nearly every day for six years – at first when I worked five minutes from home and later when the drive increased to an hour each way. It took the brunt of more than its fair share of cheese crackers and juice boxes inside, but never required more than routine changing of the oil and spark plugs outside.

Like I said, it was a good car.

In April, 2007, it began what would become a two-year period of dormancy. I had decided to continue driving it until the current plates expired so as to rack up miles on it and not the newer vehicle my wife had always driven. So one afternoon after work I parked it and changed the keys on my key ring. Soon after, I began the process described in the first few paragraphs and the car was all but forgotten as it sat on my driveway. In a way it was the first thing I had to let go.

But it was also the last.

Even after my wife’s things had been sold, consigned, or donated, the car never seemed to take priority. So I had decided that I would deal with it when the school year ended, reasoning that I would be home more often if people wanted to come by to look at it. I was not even remotely excited about the prospect of the actual selling process, which I think is part of the reason I waited so long to pursue it.

But a situation arose in the meantime that would make it easier for both the buyer and the seller. Some relatives “back home” found themselves in need of a second vehicle, and while I knew they would not accept it as a gift, I thought they might take it if I made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. So I did and they did not (refuse, that is). The logistics were worked out, and when my parents left my house a few weeks back, they found themselves pulling a bit more weight than they had upon arrival.

I thought that I would be sad to see it go. I owned that car for eight years and drove it for six. It played its part in many memories – good and bad. It had become an almost permanent fixture outside of our house. And did I mention the memories?

But after my parents pulled out of sight, and even as I write this three weeks later, I feel mostly a sense of relief.

Not because I am glad to have done it, but rather because I am glad to have it done.


  1. I understand completely. When I sold Roger's motorcycle I was sad but not the sadness I thought I would feel. It went to a good home so that made me feel better. This past weekend, I sold some of his gym equipment. I was a bit more sad than the motorcycle but again it went to a good home. Now, the bonus room looks empty but I am glad to have it done and over with. Just another thing off the list.

  2. Great Blog!!
    I to had to get rid of the car I bought with my wife in 1997. Therefore, in February I bought a newer car and had a hard time trading in the other. Many memories......

  3. Now as a single parent it seems odd to have 5 vehicles, yes 5. But the kids get upset when I mention ridding ourselves of a few. And while it's a pain to keep the tags and plates all current (no loan payments thankfully), and drive them all regularly as to keep them in shape it is nice to hear the kids spout off random memories about them as we're driving. I will eventually get rid of some, but for now I too am putting it off a little longer.

  4. I'm sure it is kind of a relief to have it done. When my husband's family comes into town next month for his 5K, they will be bringing a lot of Matt's belongs home with them, including his truck. I'm of course keeping many of his things, but with the kids and I moving across the country, there is a lot I need to let go of. If I hadn't planned on moving, I know it would have taken me a much longer time to go through his things and let go of a lot of them...

  5. Oops - that should say "belongings"

  6. I enjoyed driving Jenny's car for a year or two after she died. I was sad when its time was finally up, especially when it watched me from the garage forecourt with sad and doleful headlamps as I drove away.

    Such betrayal is hard to forgive, and even harder to forget.

  7. My apologies to all of you for not responding sooner.

    Star - I actually thought a lot about your "Roger-free" posts when I was writing this. It was a hard step to take, but a necessary one.

    Rick - I think that steps like these are difficult for all of us widow/ers, regardless of the time they occur during our journey.

    Widower Dad - It was nice to hear my daughter talk about the blue car (which she referred to as "late-late" since it seemed like we were always running behind). I'm glad your kids have good memories with your vehicles as well.

    AndreaRenee - It seems the timeline for going through our spouse's things differs for everyone, but it is still hard when we actually do it. It's another part of them that we have to let go, and that is never easy.

    Roads - The vehicle I kept is actually the one my wife drove, as it is newer and nicer than the one I sold. So there are still good memories with that one. Unfortunately, it is also the one that holds the memories of her last few days with us...