6 Years After My Husband’s Death, I Opened This Box Of Grief

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Finding The Box

“I’ve been in the middle of trying to clean some things out of my house lately, mostly procrastinating but still trying to get things done. I finally convinced myself if I just spend 20 minutes a day going through old papers, photos, and miscellaneous things I’ve collected over the years, I can have everything cleaned out and organized sometime before I die.

(Because we all know we don’t want our kids to find some of those pictures from the 80s that might literally come back to haunt us.)

Armed with my coffee and about 50% motivation, I made my way to the space I’m working on, threw a few things in the ‘Giveaway’ box, and proceeded to muddle through the next project. Easy enough.

I must’ve cleaned out my car at one point and thrown a bunch of stuff in a box which was quickly thrown away today. To my delight, I found two sets of car keys to a car I actually still have. So far, the day was a win.

And, as soon as I was feeling caffeinated and accomplished, I saw it. The box.

I wasn’t expecting the wind to be knocked out of me, or for the tears to fall. I wasn’t expecting to be affected much at all. I wasn’t expecting to spend an hour reading every paper and correspondence. I wasn’t expecting to be transported back to that time in my life when everything made sense on paper, yet nothing made sense in my head, or my heart.

I don’t know how many deep breaths I took before I opened it, or how many times I checked the dates on each piece of paper.

He must’ve been in the ER on June 16, 2016.  He was in so much pain. I can see it in the reports. I can see it in the notes I took. I can see what treatment they tried and the instructions they gave us.

But all I could think about was that on June 16, 2016, he was alive, and then 8 days later, he wasn’t.

notebook paper with prescriptions written on it from late husbands hospital stay
Courtesy of Diana Register

It wasn’t easy to look at it all. Right down to the car rental agreement for one of his treatments out of state. Because I remember that so clearly. So vividly. He wanted a convertible. So we got one.

From the drive to the airport to the hotel, we had the top down and sang 80’s songs. I remember how goofy he was singing ‘Video Killed the Radio Star,’ and how much he was looking forward to In-N-Out. And then, within hours, he was in so much pain the singing stopped and he never ate again.

receipt for convertible vehicle that husband drove before his passing
Courtesy of Diana Register

It all came flooding back to me. The fear. The unknown. The grasping at hope. I honestly thought we would just win one battle after another until the war was won. But, the thing that hit me the most while reading them was that he was here. He was alive. He was with me.

And then all of a sudden, he wasn’t.

And, a piece of me got stored in this box with the other things. I put myself away under the piles of hospital papers and bills because it was safer to hide there in the moments when he was with me than live outside the box without him.

I’m not sure I was ready for this today, even six years later. I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to go through it all. I’ve never gone through his clothes or his personal things because simply, I don’t want to.

A dear, lifelong friend reminded me today that I don’t have to. And neither do you.

Accepting Grief

Grief is personal and it’s selfish. And, in my opinion, it should be. Nobody can tell me they know how I feel. Unfortunately, a lot of people can identify with it, but nobody really knows how it feels inside, just like I can’t really know how you feel deep in your gut.

a note to widowed wife wishing her condolences and resources after husbands passing
Courtesy of Diana Register

But what I can tell you is it’s okay to not be ready to go through their things. It’s okay not to want to. It’s okay to still think about them. It’s okay to still want them to be alive. And, it’s ok not to want to open the box.

Because one day you will, and it will all come rushing back. And only you know when you’re ready for that. Only you. Nobody else.

I will never answer to anybody else when it comes to my grief. Everybody will have an opinion. Everybody will tell me what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. But, I will protect my grief because it is mine. Nobody else’s. And whether it be in or out of the box, nobody gets to direct it for me. Just like they shouldn’t for you.

For me, I went through it all, and then I transferred those things from that compacted box to a bigger box with other significant life mementos. A bigger box that shared other things that were important to me. More room to house the papers I’ll probably never throw away. More room to breathe.

plastic bin full of hospital papers and receipts widowed wife collected after husbands passing
Courtesy of Diana Register

I think that’s kinda what grief is. We hold it very close to us for a very, very long time, and then eventually we can move it around and create space around it for other things. But it never really goes away.

Maybe it will stay at your core. Maybe it will move to the edges of the box. Maybe it will shift. Maybe it will get lost for a few years and you’ll find it again and go through it again. And then you’ll move it again so that you can let more good things in.

But no matter how it works for you, it’s okay as long as it works. Grief isn’t supposed to go away, I don’t think.

Because, I truly believe that grief is an act of love, and we would never ask somebody to stop loving if it made sense to us. Now it’s up to me, you, and the rest of the world to not ask somebody to stop loving just because it doesn’t.

In the process of it all, you never know what you’re going to find. Because in the middle of this messy, ugly, dirty sifting of the grief papers, I found something at the very end that I couldn’t help but smile about.

The glitter.

Her glitter.

The glitter she wore in her hair for gymnastics that would transfer all over him through a hug.

That glitter.

And it reminded me that in the middle of all of this, there’s always something coming that will make it feel better.

Even if it’s just for a moment. Even if it’s at the bottom of a box.”

gold and black glitter hairspray
Courtesy of Diana Register
old envelope for late husbands funeral
Courtesy of Diana Register

This article was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho, author of Grief Life:A Memoir of Love, Loss and Triumph and Grief & Glitter. You can follow her on Instagram. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.

Read more stories from Diana:

Yes, Grief Can Make Other Trauma Hurt More

Today, Somebody Randomly Sent Me A Photo Of My Late Husband I Had Never Seen Before

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