On July 10th I opened Mike’s trunks for the first time since they were delivered to my home, opened, and inventoried, after his death. There are four green trunks, which contained all of his things that were “cleaned” and recorded before sent home to me. Then there were two trunks that the guys in the team brought back. I don’t know why those things didn’t come home through the “proper channels”, but they didn’t and I only ever opened one…and quickly slammed it shut. I could not look through it, especially when the smells of the desert wafted out of the big black trunk. The last trunk is from Mike’s deployment to Iraq. I never opened it and never wanted to, but after Mike died and I was trying to sort out all of his gear, I decided to open it, and it also proved to be too much at the time. There are also several Rubbermaid tubs of Mike’s clothes and other belongings that I packed up about a year ago. Those trunks though, by far, have been the hardest “things” for me to deal with. I can handle the Rubbermaid tubs, mostly. I mean, I packed them up myself, there are things in them that I lifted out of drawers, fingered, smelled, hugged, cried into, and put back away many times before I actually packed them up. There is even a pair of pants that he left on the floor in April, belt still in their loops, like they are waiting for him to step into them again. Those things are all still very tough to handle, but they are more manageable than Mike’s trunks. Maybe it is because those things were always here with me, and the other things were not.
I have this strange feeling, as I am going through Mike’s things, that it isn’t my place. Simply, it is his. I feel like an impatient wife, who is trying to put the things that got sent home early away in anticipation for her husbands return, except he will never come home. I get terribly panicky because I feel the full weight of Mike’s death sitting on my shoulders as I look through them. I don’t know how to describe it all but it is hard. There is the guilt, that I am the one who is alive, and he is the one who is dead. Guilt that I was not there holding his hand. I think about my life and all the judgment that has been handed down to me, all the things that people have done (and I essentially let them do to me), and I just feel like it should have been me. I know that is selfish, that pain is a part of life, but it is one of those things that runs through my mind when I have to face losing Mike. There is the anger. I get angry at Mike, I get angry at the guys on the team, I get angry at God. I just get angry and I can find no justification for why all of this had to happen. Frustration. That one is a heavy concept. It might not seem like it is, but it is. I get so frustrated that I cannot talk to Mike. Sure I can sit around and talk to his urn or his pictures or look up to the heavens and direct my words to where I believe he is, but in the end, I will not get to hear his voice or his laugh. That is the frustrating part. That I will never talk to him again. And with that goes all the other Nevers: I will never kiss him, hold his hand, lay my head on his chest, fall asleep listening to him breathe. Our life together is over and that is frustrating. There is a deep sense of sadness. I am sure that to many people, this is old news. But, it is more than I am sad because Mike died. That causes me great sadness on its own, but touching and feeling the things that WERE Mike’s puts me into an incredibly deep and sad mood because it is blatantly apparent that the kids will grow up with things as their representation of Daddy. Just things. Olivia might have a few memories, and maybe even Michael (but I have doubts), mostly though, they will have things. How incredibly depressing is that?? With each item that I pull out of those trunks there is a weight that bears down on me. I don’t even know what to describe it as. The weight is unbearable. The other day, as I was pulling things out of the trunks, I found something that I did not expect. I knew what it was, but I needed a confirmation, and when my suspicions was confirmed I could not even speak. I sat down, I placed the item in my lap, and I cried. I cried for that whole entire deployment worth of pain, I cried for the pain I felt when I knew Mike was not coming home, I cried for all the moments that I wanted to cry but I didn’t after he died, I cried for my children…and the list goes on. When I was done crying I was left with a feeling of intense disbelief. Was this real? This couldn’t possibly be real. I looked at all the uniforms, gear, scopes, magazines, shoes, clothes, and other things around me and I could not believe it. Michael’s life really had been reduced to boxes and most of what was in the boxes was not an accurate description of who he was to his core. Who he was to me. The disbelief didn’t dissipate until I pulled another item from the trunk and I was again shocked and taken back. I started to feel like this all was real and then I realized that this is why I kept all the trunks closed. If I opened them, it all was real. As long as they were closed I could rest in my disbelief for as long as I wanted. I thought, all this time, that I was healthy and working through it, but I realized I was just managing. With most of these emotions comes fear. Fear is nothing new to me. It was always there when Mike was gone. Not just on deployment. When he was on the way to work, off training, anywhere other than with me, I worried. I always had this fear that something terrible would happen and I would be alone. After Mike died that fear was no longer about whether something bad would happen, but how I was going to get through it all. How was I going to get through today, tomorrow, and how will I get through all the years ahead of me? Will I be able to do things right without Michael? Will I be able to pass on the right stories and things?? Going through the trunks means that I have to choose what I pass along to people, and I fear that I don’t know what to keep, what to give away, and what to never reveal to anyone. Pride. That one is sort of easy for everyone to understand. Just seeing Mike’s things overwhelms me with pride. Yes, I feel all of the other things too, but I am so very proud of him. It is not because he died. That is not what I am proud about, I don’t understand being proud about that since it took him away from me, I am proud because the man that I knew was a wonderful man. He had beliefs and ideals that were immeasurable. We didn’t always agree, but it really didn’t matter because Michael believed and I just had to trust that it would all turn out okay. Some people might look at my circumstances now and think that my belief and trust in him and his immeasurable beliefs and ideals as foolishness, considering I am without him, I can understand that. However, I don’t think that I was foolish. I think that Michael and I always knew that no matter what happened things would somehow be okay. I still feel many days like things will never be okay, but other times I have so much peace that I feel like I can heal the world. So, I am proud of Michael because of the man that he was and always will be deep in my heart.
I thought the trunks would be the end of me. I have avoided them for so long because I thought I wasn’t strong enough to get through them. Guilt. Anger. Frustration. Sadness. Disbelief. Fear. Pride. Bundle all the feelings that I get looking at the trunks and opening the trunks and seeing and touching all of Mike’s things and it all equals LOVE. Crazy, crazy, love. I couldn’t feel all of those things about those trunks and Michael and everything that happened if I didn’t love him down to the bottom of my heart and back up again. That love will never go away…and I am betting that those feelings I got with the opening of those trunks will never go away either. It will always be overwhelming to open them and face the reality that became my life. It will always hurt when I have to accept that Michael is gone. He will never have another birthday, he will never see our children play soccer, or graduate high school, get married, start their own families. He will forever be missing and be forever missed. I still have a lot to do this week with the trunks. I am sure that means a lot of feelings have yet to come out, but I will get through it. For the kids, for Mike, for Frank, and for myself. Time to heal, and for real this time.