Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

Photo: Isn't it the truth:

This page showed up in one of my calendars last week. Since we already have established that I am something of a “change junkie,” Dr. Einstein’s words seemed particularly on point.

Talk about change! I am getting ready to sell and move out of the house that Tom and I built. Since the house I am moving into is a bit smaller, and since I (we) accumulated a LOT of stuff over the years, the time has come to mercilessly downsize and sensibly simplify, especially when it comes to possessions.

We purchased this house — a manufactured home — the day after 9/11. By that time, we had been married almost 8 years, and this house was the first thing we had put together literally from the ground up. We picked out everything together, right down (or up?) to the roof shingles, which we both loved for the flecks of blue color against the brown background. When we moved in, we were absolutely on the same page: everything we moved in a day had to be unpacked and put away that day. Once we had a bed and a coffeepot, we couldn’t wait — we started sleeping there. And we downsized and simplified, but as I have learned in recent weeks, there was a lot that neither of us could quite bear to throw out at the time.

We did a lot of living in this house, and we did a lot of loving here, too. We faced life-changing events, both wonderful and catastrophic, together in this house. And he died in this house, with me holding him. It was the first place and the only place that we truly made for ourselves together. And now it will become someone else’s home.

I’ll be moving to the “cottage” that Tom bought back in 1993, just before we got married. I bought the place back from his sons this past June, and when I walked back in the door I knew I was home — the same feeling I had the first time Tom and I walked into the place to look at it in July of 1993. It’s been christened “Sparky’s Place,” also known as “my little house in the woods,” and the feeling of peace and contentment I have when I am there is indescribable.

And it is about 2/3 the size of “the house Tom and I built.” So downsizing and simplifying are in order. I practiced at this process 18 months ago. Shortly after Tom died, part of my grieving process that I still don’t fully understand involved a burst of almost insane energy and restlessness. I cleaned out closets and dressers and cabinets, reorganized, and (I thought) downsized significantly. All of Tom’s clothes and shoes went to the Lansing City Rescue Mission; I shredded obsolete records to the tune of 7 large trash bags full of shredded paper; and still, when I embarked on my current project to move up north, I found that I still had Way. Too. Much. Stuff.

I’ve been taking on one area at a time, and I thought I was sailing through it. Today’s project: clear out my closet and dressers, get rid of all the clothing and other things that I never wear or use. I thought, “Show no mercy!” I thought it would be a relief to relieve myself of these excess things.

Then I found the first stash of birthday, Sweetest Day, and Valentine’s day cards. I set those aside, not at all sure I could get rid of them. Then I found the second stash — sympathy cards and cards from my retirement. So I sat down and took both stacks, and started looking through them. It was a nice warm fuzzy to revisit those retirement wishes and expressions of sympathy — and then into the trash bag they went! I realized that I don’t need the cards to remember that people cared about me and what was going on in my life at that time. And frankly, I will probably never see or hear from a vast majority of those people again. That’s how life happens. We connect with people for a time and for a reason; sometimes, great friendships develop, and those are the select few that we continue to make a part of our lives. I don’t need the cards to make that happen, either.

It was the birthday and Sweetest Day and Valentine’s Day cards that got me. As I looked through those, two memories came very powerfully to me. The first was that for all of our 21 years together, Tom and I could never get it straight whether we observed Sweetest Day. Our first year together, he got me a card and gift, and since I thought Sweetest Day was the ultimate Hallmark holiday, I had nothing for him. The next year, having learned my lesson, I got him a card and a little gift, and he had nothing for me. You can imagine the discussion — but it went on that way for the rest of our lives together.

Tom was amazingly good at picking out cards, and I always knew that he had spent some time and had carefully selected the card and verse. That’s why the Valentine’s Day cards really got to me. As I read through them, I could finally hear his voice again — something that has escaped me for the whole 18 months he has been gone — and through my tears, I had to laugh as I heard him say, in my mind, “Get rid of it!” I found one card that summed up beautifully the way he loved me, and kept it. That card brought the second powerful memory: The way he would say, sometimes just out of the blue, “I love you, Abb — I love you more than you know.” And he did.

All the rest of the cards, I got rid of. Into the trash bag they went, and out to the curb it went ,since today is trash day.

Painful? Yes. Yes, it was. But if I expected this process of downsizing and simplifying to be without pain, I should have known better. Life happens, and pain and tears are part of it. Fortunately, they are only a part. You see, I went right on to have a good hearty laugh as I got rid of dozens and dozens of pairs of old socks and even older unmentionables. My closet and armoire are next. I expect I will find some memories there, too.

The lesson? Very simple, for me: It’s that the essence of what I’ve grieved for lives deep in my heart. It isn’t tied to the things, and it isn’t tied to the cards. It’s tied to my soul, and it will always be there to bring a tear, a laugh, a moment of joy — not necessarily in that order. Thank you, Mr. Einstein — I will keep moving and thus maintain my balance!

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