Touching Hands

The Touch Of My Husband's Favorite Things

Healing Through Loss is a bi-monthly feature on Your Turn To Care. Guest columnist Michele Neff Hernandez provides insights into the process of healing after losing a loved one.


For the first few weeks after Phil's death, I considered anything that had touched his body to be sacred...shoes sat where he last left them, his lunchbox remained on top of the refrigerator, and his toothbrush was standing next to mine in the holder. One day I found an eyelash of his and pressed it into a plastic rosary holder for safekeeping. Three days before he died, he was working in our attic and left dirty fingerprints on the top of the door in our bedroom, my initial annoyance with the dirty smudges turned into an aversion to removing the last visible fingerprints that confirmed his existence. Bringing myself to alter the environment he lasted experienced felt impossible.

In those early days I didn't handle Phil's things very often--I was afraid of losing his scent or masking that unique smell with my own. But after a few months, after the shock of his absence began to wear off and reality started to press in around me, I became desperate for the comfort of Phil's arms. One morning I woke up crying (again) and wrapped my own arms around myself trying to imagine that my limbs were his. Rocking back and forth in the middle of my bed I looked up and caught sight of one of his sweatshirts. Even as I literally ached for his touch, I weighed the value of wearing his clothes against the risk of losing even a tiny part of the 'himness' that each item held. In that moment the need for him overcame the fear of depleting my supply of Phil items and I pulled that sweatshirt over my head. Immediately I felt as if he had wrapped me in a tight hug, and I laid my head on our bed and cried my eyes out.

That moment was a milestone for me. I stopped withholding the comfort of wearing his clothes from myself, and just reveled in the warmth of knowing I was wearing a part of him. I slept in his t-shirts, wore his slippers to get the paper, pulled on his raincoat when it poured, and adopted his favorite running shirt as my own. I was layered in Phil, and I loved every minute.

Michele wearing Phil's hiking shirt.

As I became more comfortable using his things and less worried about losing him by making them my own, I discovered that Phil's memory was part of my daily life in a new way. Instead of pulling out his things to torture myself with his absence, I used them to remind me of how much he loved me. The items that were a part of his everyday routine were proof that he was part of my everyday world, even though his body was gone. Our love was obvious to me in his hairbrush, even if that brush was now covered in my hair. When I pulled on his running shirt, I was reminded of sunny afternoons that we headed out the door side-by-side. Slowly I blended what was with what is, and found that the past was paving the way for the future.

I still go out to get the paper in Phil's slippers. Every now and then I giggle as I pull on his favorite sweatshirt, because he would never let me wear it when he was alive. His t-shirts are often my pajamas and that eyelash is still tucked away in the rosary box. What I have learned is that his memory is held not only in the physical evidence of his existence, but in the indelible mark he left on my soul. No amount of time, space, or familiarity will rub that mark off.


Michele Neff HernandezMichele Neff Hernandez is the founding President, and Executive Director of the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation. Soaring Spirits is a non-profit organization committed to providing resources and peer support to people grieving the loss of a loved one, with a special focus on those who are widowed. Michele inspires people as a motivational speaker and freelance writer. She also works as a member of the Bereavement Training Team for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and is a regular contributor to various websites, blogs, magazines, and collaborative book projects. Ms. Neff Hernandez is a resident of Simi Valley, California where she lives and laughs with her three amazing children, and is newly married to an amazing Aussie who supports and encourages her work with the widowed community. An avid runner and outdoor enthusiast, she actively encourages others to embrace the life they are given.

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I know this so well, I lost my wife of 25 years to cancer in 2004, and a year later my youngest daughter Rachel age 18 in a car accident. That period in my life has been unbearable. Especially with the loss of my daughter. Loosing a spouse and loosing a child are two of the most completely different types of loss. With my wife I knew the end was coming and was able to prepare and I was at peace when she was at peace. The loss of my daughter however was a train wreck. You never get over it, you find ways of excepting and dealing with it. There are days though that really can hurt. So much in this article brought back memories of right after my wife's funeral. Everyone had left and I was alone, very alone. That is when a lot of that can really sink in. I have remarried and have moved on to another chapter in my life, but like a good book, I have those memories from objects left behind to touch what was once there.

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Dan, Thank you for sharing your story. I'm so sorry for the loss of your wife and daughter. It can be incredibly difficult to talk about our loved ones who have died but reading your comments and Michele's article I'm touched by the clear expression of love and your commitment to carry their memories with you. Our best to you and your family.

Funders
MetLife Foundation The Lippey Family Trust Gladyce L. Foster
California Community Foundation