Grief, like spring cleaning, is all about baby steps. Last week I decided to sort through a desk drawer and made piles, what was important enough to keep and what I was willing to part with. And then my husband sorted through the discards and pulled out a map of Austria, Malcolm spent a summer there, and a pair of nail clippers, Malcolm cut his nails with those. I know, that might seem morbid – nail clippers. But after those first horrific hours passed and it began to sink in that we would never see him again, I collected his hair from the drain in his shower; if I had found nail clippings I would have kept those too.
It has been four years, as of yesterday. Four springs when we have asked ourselves, are we ready yet? Is it time to clean out his room? Timing is very delicate here. When my husband washed my son’s sheets a few weeks after he died, it nearly put me back in the hospital. How could he decide to get rid of any of Malcolm’s smell. How could he? I was hysterical, hardly able to breathe through my sobs. Now only traces of his musky odor linger … a camping jacket, a knitted cap. And our younger son’s friends have slept in Malcolm’s bed during Mardi Gras visits, and I have replaced the sheets.
Going forward there will be hundreds of decisions to make. Every article of clothing, every note, every memento. His desk contains fragments of the life of the boy and the man, from grammar school to graduate school. Every one of them precious, every one of them a tenuous connection, every one of them holding out the elusive hope of an answer. What if there’s a letter hidden between pages of a book, a note in a pocket? Some revelation of a broken heart or a paralyzing fear. But did he really know why, on that day in March, 2007, just three hours after handing in a paper to his professor, he took a gun and shot himself through the heart? I’m not sure any more.
I think this spring what we need to let go of is our need for an answer. Maybe then we will be able, finally, to let go of Malcolm’s things. But not this year. Not yet.