Conscious Aging: In The Aftermath of Death

My friend J. is at the stage of her husband’s death — a month in — when everyone has gone back to his or her life, and J. has to begin shaping the life of a woman unexpectedly single after long years of marriage. Part of that is deciding about her late husband’s things.

No 60 year old woman needs drawers and a closet full of men’s clothes.

My way of being supportive is to share the wisdom an older friend shared with me right after Jerry died. “The loss doesn’t get easier but you get better at managing it.” And, to share some of my experiences during the comparable period in my life, to try to help normalize how difficult every part of this is. Revisiting those moments isn’t easy, even after all these years.

Some weeks after Jerry died, I decided I had to at least make a start getting rid of his clothes. In what I recognized as a small step, I took his beloved but ratty workout shorts and T-shirts out of the drawer, put them in a Wegman’s brown paper grocery bag, and took them to Hadassah Thrift Shop, which was reputed to take anything. Sure enough, the woman behind the counter wordlessly accepted the well-worn and faded items and gave me a donation slip.

As I drove down Monroe Avenue toward home I had a sudden, overwhelming need to rush back and reclaim Jerry’s things, to take them home and put them clean and folded again in his drawer where they belonged. The small part of my brain that was functioning rationally said gently, “But of course you’re not going to do that.”

Somehow I kept driving home, where I arrived at the second piece of wisdom: the first step in any part of this process is the hardest. The second and subsequent steps are each a little easier.

Such is the aftermath of death.

Each death, each experience of loss, is unique. The wisdom of moving through loss is, perhaps, more universal. We each, by virtue of being human and deeply engaged in life and love, add to that body of wisdom.

This is why we share.

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