Chris’s dad had a massive hemorrhagic stroke almost exactly four years ago now. Chris was the one who found him. He was 18 and had just graduated from high school. He had been living his mostly carefree life up until that time like we hope young people are able to do. (Well, right there is a point about privilege, but that’s for a later time). I say both my kids matured 10 years in one day. Chris in particular was making life and death decisions for his dad as he listened to council from other adults around him.
There were a few months when we did not know whether Tom would live, to be honest, and we knew whatever the outcome, he would be in hospitals and other treatment for a long time. So, by the end of the summer, Chris moved into his dorm at Bailey Hall at the University of Minnesota and Austin and I moved from Seminary housing into Tom’s house.
I had been divorced from my second husband a year or so prior so I had already pared down a lot of my belongings. And then Chris moved into a dorm room and he really had to reduce his accumulation of stuff. And Austin and I made the decision to move into Tom’s house to take care of it while we watched the progress of his recovery.
Once again, I got rid of stuff, but I kept my furniture because I knew my time there would be limited. And, to be honest, Tom had kept a good majority of the boy’s stuff from when they were babies. I found myself making decisions about what to keep, throw, donate and save for my kids with my ex-husband’s house. He has aphasia which in his case means we have to guess a lot about what he is saying and what he understands.
I decided to get rid of as much of my own stuff as possible after that because I didn’t want my kids to have to go through my stuff and try to decide what to keep and what to throw and what to donate. I told them they didn’t have to feel obligated to keep anything of mine, only what they felt was meaningful for them.
And in turn, I’ve tried to save only things from their childhood that I find meaningful and that I think they will, too.
And so now…now it’s not my house and my stuff my kids are having to go through. It is me having to go through Chris’s stuff. And as we all know, that’s just not the way it’s supposed to be. And yet here I am.
I went with my sister Bridgit to Chris’s house today with boxes and suitcases. Here are some pictures of what his space looked like:
So over the next days, months, year, I’ll be going through my child’s things, deciding what to keep for Austin, for Tom, and for me, what to share with friends and family, and what to donate. We all know that this is not the natural progression of things, that the mother should be making these decisions with her sons things.
But there is something special and sacred about touching Chris’s things, lovingly packing them up, keeping them with me for awhile while I touch the things that were important to him. For now they are all around me, reminding me what a rich life he lived and how much I will miss knowing who he would have become.
And I feel blessed. Chris doesn’t have a lot of extra stuff. He mostly has the things that were important to him: his guitars and amps, my piano and his music, his journals and class notebooks, stuff his dad had made, books, clothes and camping stuff. And his bike. I didn’t pick that up today. But I will.
And no matter what, our stuff goes into someone else’s hands to take care of it when we die. These things tell a story about our lives and relationships and beliefs and faith, or lack of it. And I am so incredibly fortunate to have these beautiful remnants of Chris and to see others finding beauty and meaning in them, too. And so I keep these boxes and things filled with love until it is revealed to me what to do with them.
As I’ve been writing over these last now almost two weeks, people have told me they had no idea that Chris or I knew so many people or wrote so much or that Chris was such a talented musician.
I don’t really understand why it is that people read these posts about Chris and about my random thoughts. They seem to me to scream out sorrow. And I’m so tired of writing about my sorrow, but I don’t know what else to write about right now.
Someday I know I will write about other things. And from the progression of life, I know that someday I will write with joy again. I know these things because I’ve studied them. I’ve seen them in other people. And I wonder if anyone will read about the joy I might find again someday.
In the meantime, I am grateful that so many have taken the time to get to know Chris a little better. He was my precious son and I will always love and miss him. And my heart will always have this sorrow intricately woven into it. And someday I will…well, I don’t know. I only know about today. And today I packed up my precious child’s belongings. And I weep through my pride in Chris who lived a very good life.