“A trauma trigger is a psychological stimulus that prompts recall of a previous traumatic experience. The stimulus itself need not be frightening or traumatic and may be only indirectly or superficially reminiscent of an earlier traumatic incident, such as a scent or a piece of clothing.”
The week following Moshe’s death was a busy one. I don’t recall much of what happened that week because I was grappling with way bigger issues, but there was much else going on behind the scenes that I knew nothing about.
Not until weeks later, when Xiomara came upstairs and told me she’d emptied every last memory of Moshe from our bedroom. And there was a lot. After all, we had shared a room for nearly 14 years. And people accumulate a lot of stuff.
The extensive and colorful sock collection where many men choose to shine in their individuality.
The random change and chargers in the bedside drawer.
The watch my parents bought for him that he never, ever wore because he had a cellphone with the time, so why wear a watch?
There was the tie rack he installed in our closet (well, my closet because he shared his with Dovid in Dovid’s room because I had accumulated even more stuff than him) and the neatly placed color-coded rows of ties I’d watch him mull over on Shabbos morning like the decision was one to really focus on.
But that was him, always.
He’d choose one based on his suit and look at me for approval. Then we’d hustle, getting the boys ready for shul and the tie would be made en route to shul, while he pushed a stroller or held the hand of one of his four sons.
Imagine all the memories I have from a simple piece of wood tacked onto the inside of my closet door.
Imagine how that could render me unable to do anything else because I want to remember those tiny details that made our life ordinary and good.
These days, the tie rack has been repurposed as a place to hang my robe and other such personal items.
But there doesn’t pass a day when I don’t remember touching the ties with various colors and patterns. Never imagining that the person who owned them would be gone too soon.
Xiomara moved on from emptying the tie rack to removing whatever clothes he had in the dressers to the few items of hanging clothes he had in our (my) closet. She took some of the several clothes bags he’d collected from many purchases at his friend’s store over the years and placed the suits, dress pants, and dress shirts into the bags.
She placed them upstairs in an alcove in the attic and although I never had the courage to look inside the bags, I knew what the collection of Emporio bags held. I just wasn’t ready to address them yet.
This went on for a year and a half.
I’d frequent the attic because it’s a regular bedroom floor in our house, and the bags sat outside of Rosie’s room. The collection of wool, cotton, and suede no longer needed where he was. The stuff he likely agonized over at some point in his life that just sat there, waiting for me to do something with it.
Last year, my neighbor Julie asked about seeing signs from Moshe, and at that point I was too immersed in myself and my sadness to notice those signs. Now, I see them every day and they bring me joy and sadness. Comfort that he’s here in some capacity and hope that he’ll remain here and that my kids can recognize these signs, too.
Dialectical emotions not unwelcome, but wanted, embraced, and appreciated. A clear sign to me was when I mentioned the clothes to my friend and she mentioned her husband needing some new suits. I was thankful that he’d agree to take the lot and sift through it, passing on the things he didn’t have need for to someone else who could use it.
He texted me, noting how Moshe had such nice clothes and was always so put together. He was appreciative that I was willing to part with the shirts and suits.
On the night he sent his daughter to pick up the clothes, I went upstairs and eyed the mound of bags. I remember wanting to design the space outside of Rosie’s room as a reading nook for the kids, with beanbag chairs and maybe a few shelves to house their books. Instead, it became a dumping ground for Moshe’s items.
I grabbed the bags, and as I did, one of them opened and his suit was visible. It was a suit he loved, with a blue-and-gray plaid design that looked great with his coloring. Seeing that suit made me almost instantly forget the past year and a half.
It’s as if he could have walked up the stairs at that very moment and taken it from me to put it on. That’s how unbelievable it was to me that I was handing these items to someone else because he was no longer here with us.
But then I was forced back into reality and that moment was my painful reminder. That what happened actually, really happened. That things would never be the same. That he couldn’t enjoy the simple pleasures anymore. That we had to do this without him.
Sometimes there’s no way to end things neatly. Sometimes there’s more pain than gratitude. More sadness than happiness. Sometimes I’ll just feel bad for myself and the things we went through and not have a deeper, more spiritual, way to justify this out-of-order death in the middle of our lives.
But that’s OK, too. Sometimes you can sit for a few minutes in the depths of your grief and take a few deep breaths. Don’t make it your permanent residence. Allow yourself the moments needed for pause and reflection, and then get up, dust yourself off, and move forward.
The reading alcove is going to be restored to its original glory. The bags of his material items are gone, not needed. Because the beauty of his memory will always remain.
Without the ties.
Without the stuff that we think make the person.
His essence remains.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away at the age of 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.