I mean this literally and figuratively.

Yesterday my mom went to my aunt’s house to clean out her closet. It has almost been one year since she passed away and it is something that needed to be done. My 89 year old grandmother probably was not the best candidate to take on this tedious and emotional task. One cousin lives in Florida and the other admitted to my mom that there was no way he could face this alone. So my mom and my sister faced it together.

I wasn’t sure how my mom was going to react to going through her sister’s closet – bagging up her clothes to donate. There were things in there that my mom bought for my aunt when she was too tired to shop for herself, but needed new clothes to fit her new and much smaller frame. Clothes that still had tags on them because the time between the good news (“Hey, you’re cured!”) and the bad news (“There’s nothing more we can do for you”) was so short. With my sister helping, my mom seemed to do OK, although I know it was not easy.

All of this got me thinking about how after a loved one dies, there is this strange ritual of giving away that person’s belongings. My grandmother was insistent about giving me and my sister some of my aunt’s things – almost as soon as she had been buried. I know that some of this stems from not wanting those things in the house as reminders and some of it is because my grandmother cannot stand to see anything go to waste, but this was bordering on the obsessive. So, in the 9 months since my aunt died, I have amassed the following items:

1) My aunt’s Cuisinart food processor. Both of her children are boys (sorry, make that men). Neither are married and neither of them cooks. Both my mom and sister have food processors, so my grandma insisted I take this. I admit that this is a wonderful “gift” as I do not own a food processor, nor can I afford one. I have yet to use it – it remains in its Macy’s bag on my kitchen floor. We have moved it from room to room, hoping to find a good place for it.

2) A pair of pants that my aunt never wore. These pants fall into that category of purchased by my mom and never returned to the store as things went downhill so quickly. I haven’t seen them, but I know that I will keep them.

3) A blue scarf that I crocheted for my aunt when she returned home after her initial hospital stay and stint at physical rehab. I didn’t know what else to do for her, so I made her this scarf. She had been in the hospital for almost 8 weeks recovering from two major back surgeries, chemo, and a bout of pneumonia. The weather was getting colder and I thought this would be a nice gift. This was the only thing I asked my mom to take with her. It wasn’t because I didn’t want it to sit in her closet since she was no longer around to wear it, but because I so distinctly remember giving it to her that day after Thanksgiving. I was so scared to see her. So scared that I wouldn’t know what to say. So scared that I would cry. She made me feel OK and we laughed and she wrapped the scarf around her neck and thanked me and called me “Babe” – how I loved when she did that.

4) My aunt’s white winter coat she purchased at The Gap. When she first got the “all clear” from the doctors, she and my mom went out shopping. She got this coat at the end of the season sale, and as it was the middle of March, she only wore it a few times. My grandmother specifically wanted me to have this coat. It is a beautiful and warm coat, but I have not worn it. Even on those below zero days and nights, I refused to wear it. I tried to wear it once, but as I put it on I realized that it smelled like my aunt. I started to cry and I buried it in the back of our coat closet. Sometimes, when I am home alone, I will pull out the coat and check to see if it still smells like her. I’m afraid to wear it – afraid that it will lose its smell.

April 1st marks the 1-year anniversary of when we got the news that her cancer returned. I was laying in bed when my mom called me – I was shocked. I kept repeating “What?” over and over. It was the only thing I could think to say. I got up and ran on the treadmill because I needed to get some of that energy and anxiety out of my system. I ran until my lungs burned and I could no longer stand the thump-thump-thump sound my feet made as they hit the surface of the treadmill. My husband came downstairs and told me to stop running. As I got off the treadmill he tried to hug me, but I told him that if I stopped moving, if I stopped thinking for one second, I would go crazy.

I kept thinking of all the horrible things that might happen now that the cancer was back. At one point I stopped myself. I told myself that there was no way that this “thing” was going to get her. Cancer was not going to take her down.

But it did. In the end, that’s exactly what happened.

Although I go on with my daily life – work, family, grocery shopping, paying bills – deep down I don’t think I have really dealt with this loss. I know I haven’t dealt with it. I don’t know how, don’t know where to start.

When things like this get to me, I write. I always have. Maybe as the anniversary approaches, I will have to write more. Maybe I finally will be able to “clean out my closet”.

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