Have you ever seen a glimpse into your old life–before illness? It can be hard to know how to deal with grief that we are hit with by something as simple as clothes or shoes we find in a walk in closet.
By Lisa Copen
A walk in closet I have not walked into for . . . years. My husband uses most of it, but my clothes–in about 10 different sizes–sit on the bars. The wire baskets hold old t-shirts. An Old Navy shirt, size small, mocks me with the year 2004 on it.
The day previously I started throwing them into bags. I have become sick of the clutter all over my house and have been purging for months. But this closet has overwhelmed me. I had no plans to take care of the closet this weekend. . . and I have discovered that this works best for me. This way, any effort is a step in the right direction, but I don’t have to use up all my energy on it. I can pace myself.
But Saturday morning I started bagging items up, and in less than two hours my husband took over 30 grocery bags to the thrift store. When you still have outfits you recall put on layaway during college, it is okay to let them go when you are in your forties.
Sunday. I could walk into the closet now. The night before my husband started organizing too and commented that I had lots of shoes in the back of the closet. Real shoes. I have worn only two pairs of shoes in over 10 years–literally. Nothing in there will ever fit on my feet again.
I start pulling them out. Most are not even shoes I like. They were season 2 shoes of rheumatoid arthritis. They were “maybe this will work” shoes that never worked. Slippers my mom bought me. Sandals I could never wear more than a few steps. And then I pulled out my wedding shoes. How did I ever get my feet into these? They are flat, but so narrow. I only wore them a few hours. At that time my doctor thought there still may be hope that my feet could improve. They never improved. They got worse. . . Much worse.
In the past two weeks in fact a new nodule has grown out of the bottom of my foot, so there is nowhere to put weight on, on the balls of my feet–the inside or outside are of my sole. I need to see the foot doctor and hear what he has to say. I must learn how to deal with grief–the grief of loss, the grief of death of my old self.
I go back to the closet and lean against my clothes, feeling around underneath them for more shoes. I start to fall, I can’t regain my balance and I half fall, half ease down onto a stack of my husband’s pants. I sit there. I am not able to get up alone. My husband and son are outside. I wait. It is actually so quiet. Now I understand why the cat likes to come in here.
I reach over and pick up an old journal that was uncovered. I randomly open to a page. 1996.
My grandmother, who lived with severe feet deformities, died the week I wrote it. I write how I miss her, but now she is no longer in any pain, she is dancing in heaven.
“Hey, what are you doing?” my husband appears.
“I fell,” I reply.
He asks me how he can help, I grab his hands and say, “One, two, three,” but I do not rise. I collapse back on the clothes. “Here, let’s try again,” he says. I grab his hands, “I can’t. I just can’t.” My knee is throbbing. My wrists don’t bend so I have no way to push myself up. “I guess. . . get me a chair.” I say. ” I can pull myself up.”
He leaves and then comes back with a chair. My grandmother’s chair from her 1950s table I have. I try to position my legs so I can pull up, but the closet is too crowded. “I can’t. I need a minute,” I say. “I am so tired.”
I rest my head on his flannel shirts. The tears start to leak out . . . I can’t help it. my husband stands there feeling helpless. He can’t even reach me. I sit and cry.
. . . About the shoes. About the me who no longer exists, I have long ago donated the “cute” shoes, so I am not grieving that gal who wore them, but the gal who still had hope that she could even fit into these shoes. I grieve for the naive girl who wrote of her grandmother’s pain not realizing how much worse her own would get.
I cry because I have fallen and I can’t get up! I am living a bad commercial! And that here in front of me sits my grandmother’s chair. And even with that I cannot figure out how to get off the floor of my closet.
“Go ahead and take the chair,” I say. He moves it away and I grab the door frame. “I am going to try to pull myself to my knees and then help pull me up.”
I grasp and gasp as I put weight on kneecaps that have pieces of bone and calcium deposits floating around on them. The knee that was drained last week but feels just as badly. He holds my hand, I count to three, and I cry out as I arise. Tears fall, but I am up. He holds me, and I give in for a minute.
“Okay, I will finish bagging this up and then we will go. . .” I trail off.
We will go. We will try to do something fun that is not haunted by these memories. I will use the tool of distraction to step away from the emotional pain. I want to rest in his arms and sob, but I don’t want to start because then I may not be able to stop. I don’t wish to ruin everyone’s day just because I am hurting. I go to the living room and put on my orthopedic black clunky shoes. I am gradually learning how to deal with grief.
About the Author:
Lisa Copen is an author, speaker, and the founder of Rest Ministries which serves the chronically ill. She lives in San Diego with her husband and 9-year-old son. She is currently writing a book for Christian moms who live with chronic illness. If you are interested in sharing your stories, feedback and confessions for the book, visit her Facebook page at http://MomWithIllness.com .