I have decided there is nothing more personal than a hat. Eyeglasses in a drawer, toothbrushes in a glass, even plucked ducks wrapped in aluminum foil in a freezer are personal if the person who put them there is gone forever.
But nothing is quite as intimate as a hat. Shoes, shirts, other apparel – after a death, all of those things are hard to sort through or even to see.
The hats are toughest, both a source of comfort and sorrow simultaneously. A hat holds the shape of your loved one’s head, the stain from his sweaty brow, the proof of size and style. A hat is nearly a living thing, hung on a peg until its owner returns. A hat is shelter, same as a roof, something between you and the rain and the cold and the sun.
Since my husband Don died, it feels good to give away some of his prize possessions to people he loved and who loved him. Don, after all, was not about possessions. He thought all of us had far too many things. He often told me with a wicked smile that if anything else came into the front door of our small house, something had to leave by the back.
So I know he would approve heartily of my distribution of some of his things. They are only things, he would have said. And every now and then I figure out a perfect match, and it brings a brief euphoric moment to dismal days. It almost gives some kind of poetic meaning to infinite loss.
Young Sam, for instance, will learn to play the Dobro that Don never mastered. Luke will love the knife. Larry will appreciate the photograph from Rowan Oak. Terry will ride the bike. A place for everything, everything in its place.
But not the hats. The hats I keep. The hats are mine now. The hats nobody else can have.
You get selectively selfish in that way after a death. It can seem unreasonable, I’m sure, to those who have never been through it. It can seem morbid and self-defeating to dwell on the minutia stored in cigar boxes and file folders and nooks and crannies of your home. It can seem like an indecent wallow to occupy your days with joyless distribution, giving away the flotsam and jetsam of another’s life, holding on tight to parts of it.
Too bad if that’s how it seems. That’s what happens.
Some understand, others do not. And you really cease to care about outsider critiques of your gut-felt instincts.
One woman I do not know wrote me a wonderful, poignant letter and said she wished that today’s widows were required to stay at home and wear black for a couple of years same as in the olden days. They might not have suited Scarlett O’Hara, but widow’s weeds would serve as a protective shield.
Too often now, the woman wrote, you’re expected to snap back in a couple of weeks, to get back soon into the swing of social and professional obligations. Before the last funeral casserole has gone moldy in the refrigerator, you are due to be out and about, picking up the pieces. Forging ahead. Or at least that’s the prevailing sentiment of those who know nothing about it.
Yes, two weeks, two months tops. People want you busy, taking care of business. Take a pill, join a group, move through the accepted stages of grief as if you were on a train that makes lots of stops.
When all you really want to do some days is sit and stare at a couple of old hats.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.
NEMS Daily Journal