The Shoes In The Living Room

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My house is filled with reminders of a heart which beats no more.

As we careen through a week – and counting – after my Mother-in-law Janice passed away, Sherry and I have seen our lives get mostly back to normal. Yes, we still have moments of emotion. We have both been going into work, taking The Clark Boys on outings, and going to the things we attended prior to Jan’s illness. Hospice care is done. The machines of life have been picked up, and the remaining medicine has been dispatched for safe disposal. The Death Certificate arrived today on a big brown truck. No longer do we hear the sounds of Care. In a sense we have regained much of our lives and increasing amounts of composure.

Until I look down and I see a pair of shoes.

Jan’s blue slip-on shoes sit behind her favorite chair, put there during her last visit to the living room over two weeks ago. I noticed them a few days back. I don’t want to move them, even though I know I should. In a way, those shoes say she is still here, reading her mystery novels and checking her blood sugar. They point to a time when she could walk. They would have been on her feet while ordering fish & chips at Red Robin (with cocktail sauce instead of tartar). Those shoes would have seen Jan water a thousand plants in the yard – ones that I have managed to kill through an acute inability to care for anything green. Those shoes are her now. One of the last things she asked me to do for her was to put shoes on her feet.

They aren’t the only reminders we have.

In the kitchen sits the small hand-sized cutting board she used for onions. Her crafting supplies take up every spare nook in the laundry room. Upstairs the mundane things of life – an overworked DVR, more shoes, 1980s business suits, toothpaste, a special mouthwash, and towels in a design only Jan would buy – keep her memory alive in the house. We can’t keep it all; looking around our cluttered house we get that point clearly. Sherry and her Mom lived here from 1970 on, which means there is plenty of stuff that can move on (ours and hers). It will be a chore figuring out what items should be kept to remember Jan, what items will be shared with family, and what can be donated to help someone else live better.

43 years of reminders – tucked, here, there and everywhere.

One of the hardest things I did this week was to compile photos of Jan for her memorial service slideshow. More reminders of her life, in full view, and marking the years of good and bad. I didn’t use all the ones I found. Some carried the kinds of sad memories that simply need to go on a back shelf, like the last picture I took three hours before she passed. The rest make me cry, and I have done so each time I have viewed the file in preparation for the service; even today, watching it large on the sanctuary wall, brought the tears.

Sometimes it’s hard being a visual learner.

Reminders aren’t a bad thing. Being sentimental is tough, but worth it. If looking at shoes makes me sad, I’m pretty sure this indicates I have a soul. It’s safe to say, even though Jan and I had a difficult relationship, that I have some good reminders mixed in with the not so good. In a way those shoes in the living room are the kinds of things that will help me remember the good times, instead of her gruff commentary or constant cough. I need more of that. Twenty-two years in the same house with a mother-in-law was not easy, but the right thing to do. I need every positive bit I can find. Eventually those slip-on shoes will go to Goodwill.

And I will become the guardian of the spirit they represented.

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