I don’t know if any other bereaved Moms can relate to this emotion or not. For weeks and weeks it bothered me that Aiden’s locker at school was sitting there with his personal belongings in it. The thought of that was very disruptive to me-that his things were scattered about and not right here with me. I needed his things with me. I hated that some friend or kid at school could possibly go in there and take something or in any way disrupt his “space” there at school. It really weighed on me and frequently interrupted my thoughts. The problem was that the thought of walking into that school and God forbid, opening up his locker and boxing up his things was inconceivable. I could not do it. So I desperately wanted his things with me but was powerless to deal with the solution. So everything sat there for weeks. I had people offer to get them together for me and bring them here, but I knew I couldn’t even face watching that box walk in my home. My “window of tolerance”, as my therapist calls it, was not opened wide enough to face that and be OK. I know it sounds ridiculous, however, I basically needed them to magically be placed in Aiden’s room without me having to see it get there.
The time was fast approaching that we would have to deal with this one way or another and my counselor had offered to go get them for me, bring them to the house and then help me with the emotional impact of it all which we both suspected would be significant. ( yes, she is the most amazing counselor/pastor anyone could ask for)
So in preparation I felt I needed to clean his room ( because I can’t have a dusty room when she comes over! ) and make room in his closet. Make room for the stuff he left behind. I had a checklist a mile long that week, and with Noah’s graduation coming, the checklist HAD to get done. I knew I had a lot on my plate emotionally, but I felt like I just needed to take the bull by the horns and do it. Get it behind me. So off I went, into Aiden’s room, with a head full of determination, my dust cloth and the vacuum . It didn’t go how I had hoped. Touching his things was so personal and so intimate. I don’t know that anyone can understand the impact of touching your deceased child’s things unless you have experienced it first-hand. Its excruciating. You imagine their hands on them in life, playing with them, touching them, setting them aside to run outside and meet friends for football. You see them coming back to those things, but they can’t.
His little red wallet had $30 in it and I wondered what he was saving for? Another pair of custom designed Nike sneakers I suspect. I imagined him opening it and counting it as he did sometimes. The crumpled up dollars and change on his shelf $2. 57. What did he buy to get that change back? What shorts did he crumple those dollars into? The Chic-Fil-A gift card on his dresser he got in his Christmas Stocking but will never use. That was his first Christmas with no Santa. First one. My GOD in heaven how can that be?!
*side memory- I remember laying down with him before bed sometime during the holiday season 2014 and asking him if he could just pretend he believed in Santa one more year. Just for me. He just laughed. He was so happy to be growing up and getting bigger.
So the pain started welling up inside me. I knew it had to come. That familiar and undeniable pressure and hollowness that is so unique to this grief. Explode or let it have its way. So I let it come in horrible, awful storm of cries and tears and screaming, as I dusted and explored his little world through a watery filter. Lifting Star War legos and remembering how diligently he worked at those, many with his uncle Tim. How he arranged the little fighters on his shelf just so. Oh how I sobbed picking them up to dust under them and trying to get them back just how he had them. “Oh Aiden, why are you gone??? I want you back!!!” Out loud I screamed. Screamed.
Then the closet. To see and feel and smell his clothes was almost unbearable. Dress shirts of Ryan’s he loved to wear. The black one that is in so many photos of him. Smiling, happy photos. The fedora hats he looked so stinking cute in I could just wanted to kiss him every time he wore one. One summer when he was about 7 that hat never left his head unless he jumped in the pool. I uncovered the little red carry on bags he used when we traveled. Back when we used to travel, when life was so so good. But I can’t even go there right now. He used it when we went to Punta Cana. It is so hard to even think about that trip. What fun we had, how much he loved it there and that we will never show him any other part of the world again. Italy-where we all want to go, the national parks, all the places he would’ve love to have seen. That is so impossible to process. The “what won’t ever be’s”. The past memories too, of course, but the ones we will never make are sometimes harder to accept than the ones we did make. So I pulled out the little bag. I couldn’t stop. I was already there emotionally, no reason to stop. I can remember his beloved stuffed dog, “Fluffy Scruffy Puppy” he used to call it. Its fluffy head sticking out of this very bag on planes going to various places. In the bag was a toothbrush, some pens, the little electronic guessing game we played endlessly on car trips. But what hit me the hardest were 3 or 4 of these little white pieces of coral that were at the bottom sitting in a little dusting of sand. I believe they were pieces he found down in Punta Cana. Aiden was always in awe of nature. Things as adults we had come to take for granted or failed to see beauty in – he saw. He found treasure and beauty in almost anything. These little pieces weren’t all that unusual or beautiful, but he thought they were. Enough to pick up, rinse off, put in his travel bag and carry home.
Making room in his closet for more of his things was like wading through a tangible ocean of grief. Agony, but strengthening. Regret, but maybe some acceptance, agonizing sadness, but knowing he saw love and beauty. He loved life.
I do feel that after that experience, I had gained some strength for the next few days. Welcomed strength. I didn’t regret that time, I felt braver to face more of what I knew would be coming. For a long, long time.