Sifting through what remains

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I haven’t thrown or given away all of Mark’s clothes yet, but I have got rid of several bin bags full of mine. It seems time. I’ve repainted the flat we lived in together in for over seven years, bought new furniture and begun sorting through all the stuff we’ve accumulated over that time. I’ve spent many hours clearing rooms, moving out old furniture to make room for new, sifting through all our stuff to determine what holds value and meaning for me now that I want to keep and use or put on display, what I want to store away, or bin. In this I have physically been doing what has been happening emotionally and mentally.

While going through all my things to decide what I wanted to keep, it has struck me again and again that they are as much the clothes and possessions of someone who is no longer here as Mark’s are. Mark has gone, the life we had together is gone – and the person sorting through the remains, sifting and sorting, throwing and keeping, already seems thoroughly changed, no longer recognisable as the person who wore those clothes. As a result, there was a lot that I either put aside to store away because they held special memories or discarded because I couldn’t imagine wearing them again.

This ongoing movement, working through our possessions, returning to the past to see what remains, crying over the memories, mourning what is lost, seems vital before I can begin to rebuild a life without Mark. The paradox is always that this isn’t a life that I chose, but despite my resistance, however intolerable his absence feels at times, it’s a reality that can’t be denied.

He wrote so many poems and cards with beautiful or funny notes, and I often cry when I come across one, feeling sorrow over what is lost, wondering if I paid enough attention to the sweetness or profundity of what he was saying, but at other times I smile at the sheer wonder that we loved one another and the fact that it was so good. The poems and cards I am putting in a box so I can look at them when I want to, some of his drums have gone in the cupboard, others – the ones we bought together or hold special memories – are on display, one I’ve kept as a doorstop – his idea – another I’ve enlisted as a clothes stand in the bedroom.

There are aspects of our relationship, things that were precious to us, that I want to hold on to as well – the sensitivity and tenderness towards each other’s fragility, deeply appreciating the things we did together such as going to the theatre or opera, rather than using them as social ‘currency’, humour, creativity, a love of words and lyricism.

Today I talked to a friend, Sue, about this blog, about how all the sifting and throwing away seems to apply to it as well – what of what I started out wanting to do is relevant now? What do I want to take forward?

Sue picked up on a line that I wrote for a piece that’s coming out next month, about lament being as much part of the language of hope as the dreams and aspirations that propel us forward. It was her suggestion that I introduce a section on lament, a place where I can write about loss in a wider context, sift through and work out what remains, express sorrow over what has gone, what can’t be repaired, discover what’s still valuable, what can be held on to for the future, to be used again in a new context.

There is so much loss and, as we are seeing in England and elsewhere, this can be destructive if we don’t process it well. People who feel their way of life is disappearing can easily idealise the past and be encouraged to show hostility towards imagined culprits rather than face the loss, discover what’s left that still has value, and open up to the possibility of the new coming through.

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