The apartment was incredibly quiet. I was surrounded by all the things that reflected my busy life with my husband, Ed. All of my family and friends returned home days after the funeral, and I remained alone in the haunting silence of the apartment.
Two weeks prior, Ed had double knee replacement surgery. After complications, he went into cardiac arrest and they were unable to resuscitate him.
I vaguely remember what happened after that, only that I was incredibly distraught and terrified at the same time.
This began my lonely journey through life without my husband of twenty-nine years. A silent apartment filled with things that represented a life we built together. Everything from shaving cream to clothes hung up in a closet and folded neatly in his dresser drawers. Much of the apartment was filled with “things” that belonged to him.
However, through a series of events, I learned there’s no magic formula for deciding what to do with things and when. In the end, it depends on what brings you comfort and peace.
For me, it was sorting through things and gifting them to other people, donating them where they could be useful, and turning what once belonged to him into memorial creations.
The First: Gifting
People began requesting one of his plaid shirts to wear to the funeral. I decided to share a part of Ed with them and started giving away his plaid shirts. Even after the funeral, I was granting requests for shirts by family and friends.
I was careful to get a picture of each person wearing Ed’s plaid shirt. It felt good spreading a token “piece of Ed” to people and I enjoyed looking at all the pictures of people wearing them.
The Second: Donating
I thought about ways I could donate Ed’s clothes to benefit others.
There was a homeless ministry where we served many Saturday mornings. I knew they handed out clothing to those in need. I began bagging up Ed’s clothes, except for his t-shirts, his military uniforms, scout uniforms, ties, and one dark blue suit coat he had worn recently.
I took several trips with several bags to the homeless ministry. I saw all the homeless every time I entered the church. I knew many of them. I was encouraged that Ed’s clothes would benefit this group of people that we had served for several years.
I kept picturing him wearing the dark blue suit coat. Running my hand along the front reminded me how handsome he looked wearing it. But I knew he would not be wearing that coat anymore. I knew the memories remained with me, not the coat.
I eventually donated it to an agency collecting suits for veterans. Since we both served, it felt like an appropriate donation.
The Third: Gifting Memorial Creations
After “homing” many of his plaid shirts, I turned to his MUCH larger collection of t-shirts. Ed had struggled with his weight for decades, and his t-shirt collection reflected as much.
He had shirts from high school through more recent shirts that he designed. He had t-shirts from his favorite bands, and from walks and runs to support different organizations.
I could keep these shirts, but the effort to do so seemed like boxes of weight I really did not wish to continue carrying.
As I contemplated what good it would do for me to keep these items, I thought about the good I could do if I did NOT keep these items.
I researched the idea of making t-shirt rag quilts, since I was familiar with quilting. T-shirt rag quilts greatly reduce the amount of sewing, but still provide a beautiful quilt from the t-shirts. Twenty shirts easily make a small quilt for display or as a throw on a couch. I started sorting his huge collection and identifying which shirts I wanted in whose quilt.
I’ll never forget the reaction of Ed’s parents and brother when I gave them handmade quilts that year for Christmas. It still, to this day, brings tears to my eyes remembering how much they appreciated the quilts.
His brother remembered a concert they had both been to, and his mom remembered the Gramm campaign we had all attended, and Ed’s shirts from high school.
I have made several other quilts from his shirts since that time, including one for me from my favorites. It was hard to cut them–remembering him wearing them, how often he wore them, and if they had a certain stain I remembered—it brought tons of memories rushing in. But it was cathartic to be sewing them together into my memorial quilt.
I researched a teddy bear pattern and used Ed’s cubmaster shirt to make an adorable teddy bear. I included patches and pockets and gifted that to his parents as well.
Ed had kept so many things from his past, I actually had his old Cub Scout shirt and my son’s as well, from the 90’s. I liked how the two shirts reflected different decades of scouting, similar in many ways but still different.
I decided to make a pillow from them, but instead of making a pillow from each shirt, I decided to cut the two shirts in half, and sew each half together. I sewed a pillow from those joined half shirts and made two unique scout pillows.
Making these things and gifting them was amazing not only in helping me through my grieving, but it also gave me a way to encourage other people to remember Ed–to have those quilts, pillows and teddy bears displayed or used in their homes.
And every time I am in someone’s home and come across one of these items, it brings those memories to the corners of my eyes.
About the Author: Kim grew up in St. Charles, Michigan and joined the Army where she met her husband of 29 years. He passed away in 2017, and she now lives in Champaign, Illinois, where she enjoys rollerskating, dancing, writing and transforming loved one’s clothing into memorial creations. Find her at Taylored Memorial Creations