In days past, I missed the significance of small things. I never fully understood how painful they could be. Last Friday I had to do something I’ve been avoiding for almost fifteen months. In one sense, I’d written it off as a little thing. In fact, though, cleaning out Tammy's closet was big. Her clothes, which she kept neatly organized, have been hanging just the way she left them that Thursday morning of August 2007. I’ve cried in that closet, touched the dresses she wore, and then shut the door, knowing someday I’d have to deal with them. That day proved easy to avoid. In the early stages of grief there are much more pressing things to take care of than cleaning a closet. Cleaning a closet is no big deal—or so I told myself.
In reality, dealing with the clothing of your loved one is difficult. It seems to say they really aren’t coming back. I never consciously entertained the idea Tammy would need these things again, but letting go of the last vestige of a person can be a great challenge. In my head I know the clothes she now wears are of far greater quality than anything hanging in that closet…yet the memories, the smell, the order all spoke of her. Truthfully, I was stunned by the beauty and frugality of her clothing. She could get more out of less than anyone I’ve ever known. For years I kidded from the pulpit that if I used Tammy as an illustration I’d have to buy her a dress. This would be the last time I would hold one of her illustration dresses in my hands.
Be patient with those who grieving. It doesn’t help to tell them that not cleaning the closet of their lost love is a sign of grief gone bad or weakness. They’ll find a way some day to do it. Just pray that God will give them strength, and He will answer that prayer. I cried. No, at moments I howled with a grief that I’m glad no one but my Lord could hear. Those clothes represent so much. Her beauty. Her sense of style. Her wonderful smell. Even the order of her closet, especially compared to mine, was a painful reminder of a loss too great to calculate. I’m not holding back at this moment; this was much harder than I anticipated.
Even so, there was a feeling of health in this necessary act of reconciling my loss with my need and desire to live. I reminded myself that Tammy was so much more than what she wore. Memories associated with her clothing, of things we did as a couple or as a family, filled the room. I was instantly grateful for her once again. Cleaning out the closet was a watershed moment. I’m glad I wept tears that I thought might have dried up.
That afternoon I took the contents of Tammy’s closet to a home for women fighting drug addiction. She loved the ministry of the Home of Grace and always prayed for and supported that great work. So it was fitting that these women, finding new beauty in Christ, should wear the clothes that reflected Tammy’s beauty.
When I pulled my truck around to the back door of the building, several women came to help me carry in the hangers of clothes. They touched me with their understanding of my brokenness, their gentleness no doubt shaped by sorrows of their own. I began to weep. The awful pain filling my heart was mixed with the joy of knowing that Tammy's things would help women who now hope to have the noble character of women touched by God's grace. That was Tammy's story, and she wore it well.
In the middle of suffering, the child of God can rest in the assurance that the Lord is working and moving for our good and His glory. I now walk into an empty closet, but it doesn’t feel empty. It feels settled. I think I’m ready for what comes next.