Cleaning vs. Cleaning Out

Dearest Rachel –

So today was pretty much the last day that we will be working on the ground floor. For all intents and purposes, we cleaned out all the rooms on this level.

Correction: we have cleaned all the rooms, but not necessarily cleaned them out. There’s a difference between cleaning and cleaning out.

I say this because Jan and I spent the better part of the day working on my side of the room, the last place on this level of the house that needed work – and on some level (see what I did there?), the most difficult. The thing is, while a fair amount of things still do need to be thrown out, we aren’t getting rid of everything. At least, not the way we were getting rid of so much of what was yours. After all, at some point I may be using this stuff again. That’s not the case with you.

By way of illustration, both of our nightstands have room for books and magazines and what not underneath. While I got rid of a few things (a couple of books suffered water damage somewhere along the way and were unreadable – unopenable, in fact), you can see for yourself that the books underneath your nightstand are completely gone. I wasn’t likely to read them, apart from the occasional study book that you had written in. Don’t worry, they were donated rather than thrown out, but they weren’t meant to stay here.

By way of comparison, this is my nightstand after having been cleaned.
And this is yours after having been cleaned out.

The only papers that are on there are the ones having to do with your parents’ old house, and how we arranged to gift the place to their nurse coordinator Twofeathers.

Now, an individual is not supposed to be defined by their possessions, and it isn’t as if we take anything with us when we go, but you know, it’s human nature to focus on the external. “Clothes make the man,” or so the saying goes, and you of course were defined more than most people by what you wore. After all, you were “the purple lady” – why, it was even included in your obituary.

So, you’ll understand when I say how every step of this process has been particularly painful. Everything I throw out, or otherwise remove from the house, seems like just one more part of you that I’m erasing from my memory.

But this sense of erasure is at war with the realization that this cleaning out absolutely has to be done. It’s not even so much as part of the grieving process as it is a necessity to render the house usable again. We literally could not use the kitchen, or even the dining room table. And I still don’t know how Daniel manages to function at all upstairs. Although to a certain extent, it’s clear that he doesn’t much, as he stays in his chair – or, at bedtime, on the sofa – in the family room. All of which just has to change, whether we like it or not.

And while I like the results, the process has been – and continues to be – a bit like ripping off a bandage. Or better yet – as per your beloved Chronicles of Narnia – it’s more like when Aslan confronted Eustace, after the boy had been turned into a dragon, and had to tear deep into his skin to remove all the scales, and restore him to his humanity.

And yes, I think I do feel more human now this house has been restored to a cleaner state. The thing is, I don’t know how to feel about that. If I think about it, that was the same expression that Nero is said to have used when he had completed the palace that he built over the burned-out ruins of Rome. Am I, by extension, a monster like he was? After all, I’m taking an active role in removing all these pieces that belonged to you, whereas – rumors to the contrary – he most likely did not set the fire that reduced large portions of the city to ash.

Of course, I may be over-dramatizing things. Along with throwing so many things out, Jan and I have also found things that I would never have otherwise seen, to serve as additional reminders of you. In fact, just today we took half a dozen rolls of film out to be developed. One of the canisters you had a piece of tape with your hand writing on it, suggesting that it may have come from our vacation in 1997 that we took through various locations throughout Wisconsin. That would be a first, if we could find something from there.

So it is something of a balancing act. We have to clean so much out, but we have to be mindful not to clean everything out. This place, as long as I or Daniel call it home, will always be infused with a bit of your spirit. Oh, it may be that one day will be gone, and someone else will own this house, and they will know no more of you than any of us knew about Lois P. But until then, here we are, and here your spirit rests.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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