I don’t know what the statistics are around it, but I know a lot of widows who’ve recently decided to move. I think there’s a number of reasons for this, but certainly a house can feel heavy when so many memories remain in it. Given different circumstances (if my husband had died in the house, for example) I might have moved too.
But Shawn was insistent that I stay in the house. He knew what it would take for me to stay, and he talked me through it. He instructed me on how to pay the bills and fix the clogged drains and how often to clean the gutters. “Staying in the house will provide stability for the kids,” he said almost every day as he was dying.
Honestly, I think my kids would have been okay moving. But I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t want to leave the pieces of Shawn that were still in it.
And now that Chris is in my life, it means that he is living in a house that is still filled with Shawn in so many ways. I’ve given away or stored all of Shawn’s clothes, but his guitars still hang on the walls. I’ve rearranged the furniture, but the couch he picked out is still a part of our living room. I’ve encouraged Chris to remodel the garage, but Shawn’s tools still remain.
I’m not even sure why I still have some of this stuff. I mean, it was easy to get rid of the medical equipment and the old suitcases and things that I really didn’t want or need. But there was plenty of stuff that I kept around just because it seemed silly to discard. The tools were a part of that category. Since I know very little about fixing things, I rarely used anything other than the hammer.
But Chris is very handy, and has a lot of tools. As he moved them into my garage, I told him he could do whatever he wanted with Shawn’s tools. A few days later, when he was going through everything, he came and showed me something. “Do you know what this is?” he said, clearly surprised. He was holding up a piece of metal.
“Something for the drill?” I guessed.
“It’s a titanium drill bit!” Chris said, setting it back in the box of similar objects. “They’re really nice,” he said, answering the next question I was going to ask.
He was clearly impressed and maybe a bit surprised at the quality of the drill bits. “Shawn liked nice tools,” I said, as though this provided some sort of insight into who he was as a person.
Chris smiled, and we talked about what it was like for him to uncover pieces of Shawn in the house. They never met – or at least we both don’t think they ever met – and so Chris only knows Shawn from the stories he’s heard. But he also knows him from the things Shawn left behind.
It’s not just the tools, of course. Shawn in present in the color of the wood floors and the TV that hangs in the living room and the fan above our bed – all of which he picked out. He’s also there in the Star Wars covers that Austin and Tommy still use, and the special photo of her dad that Claire keeps on her dresser. And until I lost one of them, the pair of diamond earrings that I always wore were a daily reminder of him. Shawn is everywhere in this house, and in the lives of the people who lived here with him…and who now live here with Chris.
“It must be strange to live in a house that is so filled with a man who is gone,” I often say to him.
He always smiles a bit as he answers. He is careful in his answer, but always honest. “A bit,” he says, “but it’s worth it.”
And yet, I worry that it’s not just strange, but also hard for him. I know it’s sometimes even strange and hard for me. I was glad Chris incorporated the nice drill bits into his own set of drill bits, and got rid of the tools that weren’t as useful. But what about the jewelry Shawn gave me or the painting we received at our wedding? Do I keep those items, or is it time for them to go?
These questions remain. Sometimes we talk about it. Chris always says I should do what feels right. But I don’t always know what “right” is.
Last week, after a long day of online teaching and homeschool, I sat down with Chris to eat pizza. I had flour in my hair and I was exhausted. He poured me a gin and tonic, sent the kids upstairs and told me to sit down for a second. Then he came back and set down a small present on my plate.
I opened the card slowly. Inside was a cryptic note that said, in part, “one of us has given you this twice.”
It was signed, “Chris and Shawn.”
I opened the box. Inside were a pair of diamond earrings.
I was confused at first. Did Chris find the one I lost? Was he uncovering so much in the house that he’d managed to do that?
“That one is the original,” he said, pointing to one earring.
“And this one,” he said, pointing at the other, “I had made to match.”
It took my breath away. They were beautiful, but my tears weren’t actually about the way the earrings sparkled. The emotion overtook me then, and it overtakes me now as I write this. How could I possibly respond to such a present – one that is so filled with love?
I don’t know. Like so many parts of my life, I can only be wonderstruck by how it’s all turned out. There is so much grief and loss that stays with me and that will always be with me. But now that sadness sits beside this newly joyful life I’m living.
Sometimes it feels strange to have such pain and happiness together. But mostly, I feel grateful. For Shawn’s ability to see the future and wish me happiness without him in it. And for Chris’s ability to include my past in our life together now.
It is a life that can be messy and sometimes a bit rough-around-the-edges.
But it is a life that sparkles, too.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.