If you have been following this tale of woe you will have realized by now that it is virtually impossible to inventory all of the possessions accumulated by a person during their lifetime. I am not speaking here of extraordinary persons with great wealth, merely ordinary persons who for sentimental or other reasons found it difficult or impossible to throw things away. And why should they have done so, after all these possessions were part of their life, some more important than others, but all representing their friendships, travels, accomplishments, feelings, milestones and failures. To destroy this record is in a sense to literally shut down their life once and for all. It is a monumental, difficult, seemingly endless, and unpleasant task at best.
When Sir Edward Tylor and Professor Marett were writing their various books and learned papers they were interested primarily in the creation and evolution of religion. Tylor, as I mentioned previously, took a primarily intellectual approach trying to imagine what the people must have been thinking when someone died. Marett added to the discussion by pointing out the practical consequences involved with a death. Neither of them spent much time or thought to the emotional aspects of death. Given their ideas of what “primitives” were like they may have thought they even lacked emotion.
Death does, of course, bring about both intellectual and practical considerations. Obviously you cannot help but think about what happened and you cannot escape the practical problems of disposing of the “gear.” But neither thought nor action occur independently of the intense emotional factors that arise when someone dies. This is especially true when that someone is a person you have spent the best years of your life with, and it is even more pronounced when the death is completely unexpected, premature, and sudden. When the most important person in your life suddenly vanishes, much faster than they originally appeared in your life the first response is shock, followed quickly by disbelief, and then anger at the unfairness of life. Why is it that some people die so young and others live so much longer? It doesn’t seem fair, and of course it is not fair, at least from our simple perception of life and reality. You mercifully (perhaps) spent the first few days walking and talking as if in a trance and trying to avoid the well-intentioned friends and acquaintances who insist on helping you when you really just want to be left alone. When you eventually return to the reality of your life things get worse, much worse, the overwhelming sense of loss strikes you like a thunderbolt and your grieving begins, as does your reflections on the past, the wonderful times, the not so wonderful time, your life together, along with the final realization that it is truly over. There can be an irrational sense of guilt, you wonder if there was not something you could or should have done to prevent the tragedy. Probably there is nothing you could have done but the strange feeling of doubt persists.
The practical consequences exacerbate your feelings of loss. As you sort through the possessions you are constantly reminded of that loss, the rugs you bought in Oaxaca, the pendant from Stuttgart, the Venetian glass, the wooden tray from Sweden, the sketch from Oslo, and the myriad other souvenirs and memorabilia. The photographs are the worst, hundreds of photos from all over, each one marking a moment in your life together as well as a record of how that life evolved and matured. There is an ineffable sadness involved in this process of shutting down a life. I have found it is more pronounced and difficult in the evening. I have learned to work on it only in the morning.
Finally, at least I guess it may be a final stage, there are the unguarded moments when you wake up and expect her to be there, or you expect her home from the store, and then realize she is no longer there, will never be there again, and your life has become irrevocably changed forever. Your Journey to the West has lost your finest fellow traveler. C’est la vie.