Is it just me, or did we completely miss Spring this year? That might explain why I’m doing my Spring housecleaning in July! Not that it’s spring-like weather now either. Maybe next year.
But this has been on my master “to do” list for some time now so I decided to get started. I do the easier rooms first (I know, that’s not what the experts recommend) like the spare bedroom, bath etc. My office is always a bit challenging because it definitely becomes a catch-all for things that I don’t know where to store permanently. I tackled that room last week and it was as tedious as I feared! I was also somewhat prepared to run into items that would bring back memories.
Specifically, I had saved so many birthday, anniversary and Christmas cards that Dale had given me through the years and I found myself reading and crying through all of them. Such a sweet reminder of the love we shared for all those years. But bittersweet all the same. It was a fairly exhausting room!
I took a few days off before tackling one of the biggest sub-projects of them all – the KITCHEN! I take everything out of every drawer, every shelf, every cubby hole and clean them all. It entails checking expiration dates, purging my two junk drawers, deep cleaning appliances and blinds, and miscellaneous other monotonous tasks. It’s a full day commitment, however you slice it.
But I was prepared for all of that. What I wasn’t prepared for was the barrage of memories and tears from the kitchen items!
- The half-packet of chili seasoning that I used for Dale’s chili recipe – He had just “winged” it in the past, but it was so good that eventually he taught me how to make it – and I even passed the recipe along to my mom. And yes, part of the recipe was a half packet of seasoning.
- The popcorn pan and bowls and popcorn and oil – He made the BEST popcorn the old-fashioned way – on the stove top with lots of butter. Popcorn and a movie at home was always a treat.
- Pink sugar packets for his coffee – Whenever we’d eat out and he’d have coffee after dinner, he’d always ask the waitress for “the little pinkies.”
- Coffee mug from his mission trip to Brazil – It had the first verse of Psalm 23 inscribed on it in Portuguese and Dale used to store his tooth brush in it. Apparently, I decided it belonged with the rest of the coffee mugs after he passed.
- Tupperware gravy shaker – Dale was the expert in this area – I just bought the packets if I was making gravy! But I have many memories of holiday meals where Dale was in charge of the gravy and faithfully combined milk, flour and seasonings to make a delicious, lump-free gravy!
I know there is a special camaraderie that comes from sharing a meal with someone. So, after 30+ years of eating together, I shouldn’t be surprised at the depth of emotions that these everyday items elicited from me. So, I had a good cleansing cry in the midst of one of my biggest cleansing projects…
After pulling myself together, I took on the only entity left of the cupboards – the pantry! Another place that tends to expand its contents miraculously, it seems. Dale moved to his assisted living facility in December 2016, so a full 19 months have passed since we regularly ate together. Add to that the fact that I’ve pretty much quit eating processed foods.
So, not unexpectedly, there were a lot of items to be tossed. Foods that Dale used to eat that I didn’t like, items that I wasn’t going to indulge in anymore, and MANY expired boxes and cans. Talk about a purging! Not counting some baking products, the only food items left when I finished were a jar of peanut butter, a new jar of strawberry jam, some crackers, a bag of popcorn and one can of dog food (I’ll probably pass on that…)
Oh my goodness! I felt like Old Mother Hubbard! Seriously, it was just a bit surreal to think that there was really nothing of substance left in the pantry. It made me chuckle to myself and yet, at the same time, I felt a little melancholy. Like I had closed a door on that season of my life.
Was there a lesson in this for me? It was clearly an emotional process and I wondered just what God might be teaching me through this. I’ve often said that God doesn’t waste any of our pain, so with this new onslaught of tearful memories, just what was His message here? Was it just another thing to grieve through? Or was there more to be gleaned?
I always feel like it’s a new beginning when I’ve done some major cleaning out – whether it’s clothes closets, junk drawers or pantries. I start fresh with every intention of not letting things get out of hand this time.
As I approach the 9-month anniversary of Dale’s death, is it time for a new beginning there, too? Honestly, I don’t want a new beginning because I’m not even close to being done with this season of grieving. And I’m definitely not ready to let go of all the memories we shared. Ironically, I feel closest to Dale when I’m crying over a past memory, and I don’t want to lose that.
But, there is something to be said for finding a new “normal.” I can’t dwell strictly in the past; my life going forward is one without Dale in it and that’s my new reality. However, my future is one in which God is personally and faithfully and second-by-second deeply entrenched. And I couldn’t be more grateful knowing that He goes with me each day, His Spirit guiding me through this darkness and teaching me long-lasting life lessons. THAT is the only way I can find a new normal. Yes, it’s without Dale, but my relationship with God is deeper than it’s ever been. That’s the trade-off. I have to trust that I have the better deal now.
Let me be clear, looking for a new normal or a new beginning does not mean I’m moving on from my life with Dale. I am, however, trying to move forward. The memories that so often bring me to tears will continue to be part of my life, maybe forever.
Because, guess what? I kept the gravy shaker, the pink sugar packets and his Brazilian coffee mug. Some memories just can’t be purged.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 ESV