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Clearing out the pantry

If you are house-proud and fastidious, look away now! On the other hand, if you are interested in the psychology of bereavement, read on…..

One of the hardest things I have had to do when widowed is to somehow turn “our house” into “my house”. It’s not healthy to live in a house preserved in aspic with all one’s partner’s possessions/junk. But neither is it necessarily a good thing to throw absolutely everything away – there has to be a healthy balance, and that’s difficult to achieve. And I think that balance shifts with time, so you have to keep re-negotiating it as you are ready to let more things go.

I was talking a few weeks ago to a friend of mine whose wife has very recently died of cancer. He is devastated, and can hardly bear to spend any time at all at home, as everything reminds him of her. He’s sleeping in his spare room, as it simply hurts too much to go into their bedroom. He was asking me how I coped when Chris died. With difficulty, is the honest answer, but I did make a point of making the house look subtly different, so that I wasn’t always looking at a Christopher-shaped hole in my life. There’s still an awful lot of his stuff around, which I am gradually dealing with, but on the whole I’ve been successful at making the house feel like it’s mine.

Interestingly, I was talking to another friend of mine whose husband died a few months after Chris did. She has taken a similar approach to me but even more so, and has redecorated the house from to bottom, including new carpets, to make it feel like hers. I’ve not gone to those extremes – except I suppose in the garden, which looks totally different since I had the retaining walls refashioned.

Some rooms I found easier to deal with than others. I bought new linen for the bedroom, which was a very cost-effective way of giving the room a new look. I moved the pictures around on the walls in the living room and dining room, and changed where I habitually sit, so that subconsciously things look different. The kitchen was more of a challenge, as that was very much his domain (I was allowed in on sufferance) so it very strongly reminded me of him. I dealt with that by getting Rob in to completely repaint the kitchen earlier this year, which had the desired effect of making it feel more “mine”.

However, off the kitchen I have an old-fashioned pantry (the house is Victorian, so it’s an original feature) which wasn’t included in the redecoration. It was Christopher’s domain, even more so than the kitchen itself. It was the quietest place in the house, so he used to shut himself in there and do his Librivox recordings, away from the rumble of passing lorries. I did do a very quick sweep through the pantry shortly after he died, and threw out all the curry and chili powder that I could find – I strongly dislike hot spicy food, and have absolutely no need for those ingredients. But apart from that, I left it alone, including the recording booth, microphone and amplifier sitting on the shelf in front of the wine rack.

I knew that it needed sorting out – although I’ve been reasonably good about keeping an eye on use-by dates of stuff I’ve bought, I was aware that I hadn’t done a clear out of the stuff he used to use. Since he was a much more varied and accomplished cook than me, he had packets of ingredients in stock that I’ve never cooked with. Which meant that there was likely to be several shelves-worth of packets with expiry dates of 2010…… But it was really difficult finding the energy to face up to it.

So I had a discussion with my cleaners, and they agreed to help me out. I moved all the recording equipment out of the way, and then asked them to spend a morning going through the pantry, throwing out anything way out-of-date, and leaving on the side for me to deal with anything they weren’t sure about. Then I asked them to give the shelves a really good clean. I got in from work yesterday to find they’d been as good as their word, and there was a little pile of stuff on the side for me to look through and throw out.

Some of it had really strong memories attached, so I was really glad the cleaners had done the hard work for me by forcing me to decide to chuck it out. If I’d have tried to do it myself, I suspect the memories would have been too painful and I’d have given up. There was a pack of gelatine (exp 2010) left over from when Chris went through a stage in 2009 of making champagne jellies, and which he also used when he was ill in an attempt to make his high-energy drinks more palatable by disguising them as fruit jellies. And there were several unopened bars of Green and Blacks milk chocolate which was his favourite – I prefer Cadbury’s whole nut as my emergency chocolate fix.

So all in all I feel very pleased that the cleaners were ruthless on my behalf. I’ve got a spanking clean pantry, with all the food well within date, and that’s another room sanitised and able to become “mine”.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Mike Potts | 5 December 2012 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    Gillian: I only just found out that Chris passed away: I’m so sorry: what a waste of talent and humour. I’m very glad to have known him (and you) during that endless summer of code…

  2. Gillian | 6 December 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Hello Mike. Good to hear from you. Yes – those were good times!