This is one of a pair of blogs - see also Clearing after bereavement: The practical side
Tim died in the bedroom, in our bed, and the room was full of triggers. The day of his death, a friend stripped the bed, washed everything, and remade it for me.
I made myself go back and sleep in it that night, but I knew I had to replace it – the bed, the mattress, the bedding – and rearrange the room.
Tim sold second-hand books, and the shop was on the ground floor of the house. Walking through his bookshop, seeing the counter where Tim would always be – smiling at me when I brought him a cup of tea, calling me down if there was something exciting that had come in – was so hard.
Friends helped me run it for a while, but I knew that I couldn't keep it going for long, and I had to sell the business. Fortunately, the amazing Juliet Waugh bought it and it's now in another location in the village, with Tim's face presiding over the customers. The money paid for my Master's degree.
The house was still full of stuff belonging to Tim. He sat somewhere on the borderline between being a hardcore collector and a hoarder, and he found it very hard to let go of things. Everything had a sentimental connection, and most things he had were for a reason – they were books he would read one day, magazines that he wanted a complete run of, model kits that he would make, or things that might come in useful. It was overwhelming me.
The COVID-19 lockdown came two years after Tim's death and around the time that an old and very close friend died from glioblastoma, a very unpleasant and usually fatal brain tumour. I had little freelance work and I felt truly alone. After hitting a very deep low, the way I coped was by sorting the house.
This involved making a lot of very tough decisions. Getting rid of clothes was difficult. They are so personal – and somehow shoes and ties were the most personal of all. My sister Judith had helped me run through them a few months after he died, and she took some to her local charity shop, so I didn't have to see them when I went into town. Judith made me a bear out of his favourite jumpers, with a waistcoat made from his ties. It took me going through them another two times before I got it down to the few things I really wanted to keep.
The next things were magazines and race programmes. These were in every room of the house, mostly in labelled boxes, but sometimes just in piles. They were in cupboards, under beds, in drawers. In the bathroom. On the shop counter. Everywhere. When I collected them together, they filled one of the rooms of the empty shop. Full of guilt, I sold them to a magazine seller in London for a sadly small amount, and it took him three journeys to take them away.
And then on to the house. There wasn't a room that didn't remind me of Tim. I didn't intend to erase him, but I needed to reclaim my home, and reignite my love for its 15th century beauty. I started a clear out, which some days reduced me to tears as I picked up things that I knew had meant so much to him. I started piles to keep, to throw away, to sell, to donate to charity shops. I made a memory box of things that I couldn't bear to let go of, but I didn't want to see every day. I cleaned, painted, moved furniture around. And gradually created a home that brought me joy. The next step is finding a new home for my wedding dress. I loved it, but it's time for it to make someone else's day perfect.
The thing that surprised me about lockdown, and about sorting out the house, is how it helped me process grief. A friend said to me that she saw the change in the house as a reflection of the change in the inside of my head. I, and my house, are still a work in progress. But at least it's a work in progress where there is somewhere to sit down.