When I was a youngster, I was walking by our local church one day and for whatever reason decided to have a rummage in the trash can. To my amazement I found an old Bible. I gathered it up, and ran to the pastors house. I knocked on the door and was greeted by the pastors wife.
With an excited voice I proclaimed, Look, look, I found a Bible in the garbage.
In a stern voice she proclaimed, little Bobby, do you have any idea how many times I’ve thrown that Bible away, and every time I do, someone brings it back to me! Apparently, some things are difficult to dispose of.
Loved ones personal effects
This is a tough subject and I don’t think there are any good answers. Reason being, in my case anyway, talking to Annie about her personal effects, would to her be an acknowledgment of her upcoming demise. And who wants to talk about that. It’s rather like, “we’ll play this one by ear.”
Annie’s “last will and testament” was not long and drawn out. Just the basics. If she passed before me, all her worldly possessions would pass over to me. And if she survived me, after her death everything would pass down to our girls. In a basic will there is no mention of material items, like, household goods, clothing, or even life insurance as it goes to the beneficiary as designated to the insurance company.
Here’s the real problem
It’s one thing to talk about a loved one’s personal effects, but disposing of them, can and often does create traumatic and difficult challenges for the survivor(s).
Annie died in the middle of our living room in her brightly colored hospital bed. It was always brightly adorned with very colorful sheets and pillow cases, which in some strange way helped it resemble our colorful queen size bed upstairs.
Friends would come over, and sometimes with questioning eyes ask me when I was going to move the hospital bed into the garage. That was a freebie question, and with composure I’d simply say, that bed will never see the inside of the garage. Like I said, that was a freebie question, and they knew by the tone of my voice, they were never to ask that question again. Grievers can sometimes get upset over the simplest of well meaning gestures.
When Annie was diagnosed with cancer, four weeks later the hospital bed became her bed for the next twenty-nine months. She had many diseased and broken bones from the cancer, even at this early stage of diagnosis. And my bed became the couch, five feet away from her. I was her 24/7 caregiver, and learned the true meaning of sleeping with one eye open. The open eye is a metaphor for having the ability to hear her if she had a problem in the night, and react quickly. Even while sleeping, if she moved I seemed to know it. My senses were always on high alert.
As time went by and my grief deepened, I always slept on the couch and the hospital bed became my friend. As I did when she was alive, I’d lay down on the couch at night, stare at her bed, and heal. It’s hard to accept the fact that your loving wife of thirty-nine years is gone, but over the months of looking at the bed each night, I learned acceptance when I was awake. When I was sleeping, if I heard a noise or thought I heard a noise, I’d wake and immediately stare at the bed making sure she was okay. But she wasn’t there. However, acceptance helped me with the understanding I needed to cope with my loss. It was a very challenging time.
There was so much interaction between Annie in her hospital bed and me on the couch. Many mornings I’d wake up, lay on the couch staring at her, seemingly falling deeper in love with her. When she woke, as her eyes started coming into focus she’d be searching for me. When her eyes met mine she give me a beautiful smile and say, “hi babes,” and I always returned her smile with the words, “hi sweetie.” It was always a magical moment between two people…The caregiver and his beautiful wife Annie.
One memory that is rather ironic is, due to all the heavy narcotics Annie was on she snored loud and often. The other downside to all the narcotics was that her breathing could get so low she could actually die. One day a nurse came over to check on her while she was asleep and snoring. The nurse knew I slept on the couch, and I guess her curiosity got the best of her. She asked me how I could sleep with such loud snoring. Her forehead started wrinkling up as I told her that it was sweet music to my ears. I explained to her, that as long as she was snoring I knew she wasn’t experiencing labored breathing and I could relax in a way I could not when her breathing was shallow. The nurse didn’t comment, she didn’t have too. I knew what she was thinking, and if I didn’t have that certain love for Annie, I probably could not sleep in the room either. It was loud, but the message being sent to me was clear, for that moment in time she was okay.
It was about nine months after Annie passed that I got a call from my daughter Melissa, who was Annie’s doctors nurse at Family Medicine East. She started talking about the hospital bed and it was obvious she was talking around her primary trend of thought. And that’s because she knew how I felt about her “momma’s” hospital bed and letting it go. She started telling me a story about this sixteen year old boy that had been is a serious motorcycle accident and had suffered many broken bones. She said she knew him, he was one of their patients, and his parents were relatively poor. Then she nervously said, they desperately needed a hospital bed for when he got out of the hospital, but the insurance company had disapproved their request.
This man, that felt like he’d already cried a million tears, started crying. I could not wrap my head around what was happening. There was absolutely no hesitation in my thought process, I knew immediately that the bed needed to go to the injured boy, and that would be exactly how Annie would have wanted it.
That was such a win, win for me. Annie loved children, and her bed, which she filled with love, would now be able to love on the boy. I know the boy was blessed getting her bed, and when his dad picked it up, I let him know just how special that bed was. Being a loving father, he was thrilled.
Annie had a walk-in closet in our bedroom. It was filled with neat clothes, shoes, and boots of all sorts. She traveled to her motherland England at least once a year to visit her sisters, and usually flew out to Los Angeles once or twice a year to see her sister Lesley. And being a woman, she loved to shop. A lot of the clothing and accessories she took on her trips she’d leave behind, and bring new stuff back.
When she died, I was having trouble letting go of her clothing and accessories, or her personal things. At about the two year point, I decided it was time to let the clothing and accessories go. How did I know it was time? Most days I’d get into her closet and smell her clothing, and sometimes I could get a little whiff of her scent. Once I could no longer sense her smell, I knew it was time.
What to do with them
After giving the matter a lot of thought, I got in touch with the pastor’s wife of the Aviator Church I started attending about eight months earlier. I told her in order for me to let the clothing go, I would want them to go to a poor community. She was able to locate a church in a poor neighborhood that not only wanted them, but had a real need for them. One morning Michelle, the pastor’s wife, showed up with two or three people and took loads of clothing down to a vehicle—and off to spread the joy they went.
I spent years combing this town for antiques and doing estate sales so I knew the area well. I’d find myself trying to imagine how those ladies or young adults must have felt putting on clothing that was well above anything they probably could ever afford. For me it was a very pleasant feeling, and on occasion I thought about driving to the area to see if I could spot anyone wearing a piece of her clothing. But that was only for a fleeting moment as I was unsure how that would make me feel. I was still going through heavy grief.
Her precious nightdresses are all still hanging where they were when she died. We have a pine rod that hangs behind the washer and dryer, and for convenience sake, that’s where I kept them. Some days she may need changing two or three times. It’s hard for me, even though it been almost five years. I can’t give them away, or throw them away, and putting them in boxes in the basement seems too cold. So for now, they’ll stay where they are. I can’t let go of them.
We have a comfortable wing back chair. One day Annie wanted to sit in the chair, lay her head back on one of the winged arms for a nap. It’s actually comfortable. After awhile I tried to wake her up for some medications and food, but she wouldn’t wake up. After about eight hours I called my daughter Melissa, asking her to come over and try and help me wake her. We couldn’t do it, so I called the on duty oncologist for guidance. Dr. Schultz returned my call about twenty minutes later and had a sure fire way of waking her. He said it usually works well. We were to lean over near her face and rather loudly tell he that if she didn’t wake up we were calling the EMS and she was going to the hospital. He stayed on the phone while we took turns doing what he requested. She didn’t flinch or move and we were starting to think the worse. Dr. Shultz said, call EMS now and get her transported to the hospital immediately.
The EMS and fire department personnel arrived at the same time. They took turns trying to wake her but nothing was working. Her vitals were okay. The decision was made to bring in the gurney, put her on it and transport her. Because Annie had badly diseased and damaged bones, there were four large firemen gently picking her up and laying her on the gurney. When her back hit the gurney, her eyes just popped open, and she found herself staring up at these four large firemen. Immediately a huge smile came on her face and she said, “what a bunch of lovely looking bloke’s.” (men) I think she thought she’d died and went to heaven. Those firemen and the paramedics really had a good laugh that day. It was scary at first, but turned out to be a great story. So I can’t let that chair go either. Well, for now anyway.
Her beloved wheelchair that took her everywhere, and where some beautiful memories were made was difficult to let go of too.
One afternoon I was pushing her out of the cancer center and to the elevator. We waited for a bit and when the doors finally opened there was a tall well dressed man on each side of door immediately after we entered. Once inside, I always turned the wheel chair around as I would never leave Annie facing a wall. As I was making that maneuver, I vocally said, “Don’t worry Annie, I’ve got your purse!” Annie and those two guys just started roaring with laughter. And were still laughing when we hit the ground floor. One of the gentlemen stepped out first, and kind of like an honor guard just stood there and acknowledged us by saying, “Thank you, I really needed that.” What their business was, I don’t know, but they did come down from a floor that dealt with hospice and home health.
We had a wheelchair ramp built inside of our garage. Sometimes when I’d be pushing her up and nearing the top, I’d start letting it slowly roll backwards with the words, “Annie, I’m slipping!” She’d get frantic, start freaking out, and then I’d push her on, into the house. Then she’d scold me with laughter. She always said, “I love your sick sense of humor.” In many ways, we laughed our way through cancer.
The wheelchair, like the hospital bed eventually went to a disabled lady. Her porta potty, nebulizer, kangaroo pump for tube feeding, along with a sundry of other items all went to charity.
Disposing of Annie’s narcotics at the time was no easy task. And let me tell you, even though we needed to get rid of them as quickly and safely as possible, they were her pills and strangely enough, hard to let go of. Like anything else, it was another little part of her life that I was letting go of.
Annie spent a lot of time in the hospital so we had a excess of the drugs—six bottles of percocet, six bottles of immediate release morphine, five bottles of extended release morphine, five boxes of fentanyl patches, and lots of xanax. I went over to the clinic to see if they would dispose of them for me, and they said they couldn’t. I asked for some guidance and they didn’t have any, other than flushing them down the toilet. I refused to do that for fear of water contamination. In November 2010 it was not clear what effect narcotics had on our drinking water, but of course, now scientists are starting to find trace amounts of drugs in our drinking water in places. In the end we dumped all the pills in my large plastic trash can, covered them with water, then garbage. The fentanyl patches were chopped in little pieces and dropped in there too. What a cocktail that must have been! But, I had no other choice at the time. I was responsible for all the narcotics, and making sure they didn’t get out into the mainstream of people.
Narcotic Disposal: Food and Drug Administration
Contact your city’s or county government’s household trash and recycling service to learn about medication disposal options and guidelines for your area. Transfer unused medicines to collectors registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Sentimental items, or things that spark fond memories can be difficult to let go of. I think time, is the biggest reason for even having this conversation. Over time things change, people change. After the reality of death is well entrenched in our mind, then starts to fade, we realize that stuff is not all that important. It is just stuff and will forever be stuff. Of course there will always be some little treasures that we can never let go of. Their called “Keepers,” or “Keepsakes.” Either way, their off limits and often times become family “Heirlooms.” In essence, through heirlooms we are keeping the family tree going and perhaps are adding a bit of spice or love.
Leaving you with a smile–Letting Go
Annie and I were Antique dealers, and did estate/tag sales for twenty years. In a town the size of Wichita, there was an abundance of dealers, and good stuff. So we all swapped stories.
This takes letting go to a higher level. My friend, the lucky guy, got a call to go to a home and buy some of an older ladies recently deceased ex-husbands stuff. When he got over there he was bombarded with the story of how she hated his deceased new wife, and didn’t like him much either. He purchased a few things that were good, but initially not worth the effort having to listen to her rage. He paid her, and as he was leaving his large right foot (he was a big guy) disturbed a box under the sofa allowing it to show itself a bit. All he could see in the box was a bunch of envelopes. Seeing that they were old, he asked her what she wanted for them. After looking at a couple of them she said, just get the expletive things out of here. They belonged to his deceased ex-wife’s kin folk, and apparently she didn’t like them much either…So she let them go.
Many of the letters were written by a soldier fighting in the Civil War, and each was matched with the return letter from his wife. All in chronological order. They sold at auction for around $18,000. The next set of letters were from the American Indian war during the 1880’s. Also chronological from a soldier to his wife and back, and they sold at auction for about $12,000. There were a bunch of miscellaneous letters that made a couple thousand as well. Anyway, the total was just over thirty grand…Angry lady, letting go.
Hear the whole story in Bob’s book, Because of Annie. All proceeds are donated to cancer charities.