the joy in sorting

This week has found us signing a new rental agreement and beginning to pack up our home. We are renters for the time being, and when we moved into our current home, we moved here for Caemon. The three bedrooms, the nice little yard, the space for running around all were draws for a family with a little boy to raise. With Caemon’s death, however, we find it so impossible to be here. We keep the door to his bedroom closed at all times and only briefly step in to deposit something and then close the door.

We see him everywhere here: the dining room which houses his little play kitchen as well as our big family table where he liked to sit on a bench, the living room where he enjoyed helping to make fires in our stove or sit with me in the rocking chair reading books, the back yard where he would dig and plant and catch garter snakes and make mud pies, the kitchen where he would pull up his stool to help us make coffee or muffins or hummus and where he fell in love with all our appliances, even our garage where he liked to get into my tools or hang out with the vacuum cleaner. This place is loaded with Caemon memories, and it’s hard to leave them behind, but in order to move forward, Jodi and I need to be in a space where we don’t expect to see Caemon running toward us when we walk through the door or stumbling down the hall when he awakes in the night. We need a bit of a blank slate.

Of course, moving also pushes us into perhaps the most dreaded of activities after losing a child: the sorting of his things. Because we had put in new flooring in anticipation of Caemon’s homecoming, Caemon’s room never really came back together. His bed is not there, and there are just piles of his toys and clothes and books stacked, including all the boxes of generously donated items meant to make his year in isolation more enriching. His clothing has been in large sealed ziplock bags, which we had to use when transporting his clothing from the laundry to his room in BMT to keep dust and germs out. It has been a mess that neither of us has felt we could endure, but we knew we would have to tackle it soon, and likely with the help of many friends holding our hands through each step in the tear-soaked process.

Then came yesterday. Jodi was having a conversation with one of Caemon’s favorite nurses online. She is volunteering at an orphanage in Tanzania, and they were discussing her experience. Within minutes, Jodi was telling me that the baby home needed boys’ clothes. After a few more moments passed, we were discussing how we would get the clothes there, and within half an hour, Jodi had opened the door to Caemon’s room, pulled out a suitcase, and we were sitting on his floor, sorting through his clothes, packing them up to send to these kids who need them so much.

It all felt so right. Caemon loved it when the red suitcases came out. He loved packing for adventures, putting his clothes in the luggage, and getting ready to go. He was always “packed” long before Jodi and I, although usually this meant he had packed his whole shirt drawer, an air pump, a stack of books, and a few pairs of my socks. He would have loved the idea of packing his things to go on an adventure, and so this is the spirit with which we approached what we thought would be the most unbearable task.

Caemon packing for a mini adventure.
Caemon packing for a mini adventure.

Naturally, there were items we wanted to keep, items we wanted to give to people we know, but having a purpose for Caemon’s clothes and knowing we would soon see photos of beautiful children wearing them, that they would be worn and worn and worn just felt so good. Knowing that Jodi and I–two moms without a child–were sending clothes to kids who don’t have parents felt positively right.

There are still plenty of his things to sort through. Some of them we’ll sell at a moving sale in a couple of weeks, others we will hold for future children or gifts for kids we know, and certainly plenty of the new toys we will donate to the sorts of groups who donated them to us. His books we’ll keep–every last one of them because if you know what bibliophiles we are, you know that parting with a well-established library is virtually impossible. But it’s happening. The sorting, the distributing, the lightening of our burden is happening just as it should.

I’m surprised that so far this hasn’t been an impossible task, that there is, in fact, some joy to be found in discovering Caemon’s treasures all over again. Yesterday, we found his stash of flashlights from the hospital, teddy bears that were covered in bandaids and various types of medical tape, even a couple of packets of “soothing Cavilon.” We rediscovered his “fellas”–the funny group of stuffed animals with which he used to have tea parties. We found artwork of Caemon’s, the music he so loved, and his beloved guitar. Discovering each of these helped me find some joy through the tears. It helped me remember my son for precisely the wondrous child he was, and in that, I discovered a little bit of healing. We are by no means finished, but I am finding myself looking forward to spending more time in Caemon’s room seeing the little details of my quirky Caemon, sending more bits of his life out on adventures, and cherishing the many sweet memories of my beautiful boy.

I know that there are going to be some more difficult moments, but cleaning up a child’s room is the work of motherhood. We fold clothes, place toys in their right places, and put books on shelves. We pack up the clothes that don’t fit anymore and sort through the toys, and when I look at this work through this lens, it is all so very natural: returning to these simple, almost automatic tasks, I’m allowed to remember a piece of myself I have been mourning as well, and that is such a gift.

13 thoughts on “the joy in sorting

  1. What a beautiful post. I think Caemon would love that his clothes are going on an adventure. You are such amazing parents. I think about you all each and every day.

  2. There is so much beauty in the donation of his clothing, and in remembering all the little details about your son again while sorting through his things. Heartbreaking, but healing at the same time.

  3. Thank you so much for continuing to share. It is so very, very generous. I like to know the journey you are on and I still cry for Caemon and the power of your beautiful love. This is such a sacred way to honor that love…Thank you…

  4. The timing is wonderful. Blessings in disguise. The one thing that rings true if you remember the things that made you smile then they will again. We love you both

  5. Love hearing that Caemon’s “work” continues. I pray that as these clothese travel to Tanzania, that a little bit of Caemon’s joy, energy and love goes with them. I’m sure one of Caemon’s huge hugs will be in everyone of his shirts that travel there. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey. It teaches us all that there is joy even during trials. Caemon would be so very, very proud of his Moms!!

  6. It seems that sometimes the only way to survive something painful is to do something good with it. It makes me happy to hear that sweet little people in need, from different communities around the globe, will have smiles because of you, because of Caemon.

    I wish you strength, comfort and sweet memories as you sort and pack. I hope your new home filled with peace and healing.

  7. You two are such beautiful people. Sending you much love. Once again, thank you for your words. You continue to give us such a gift by sharing your experiences. Thank you.

  8. It’s almost 14 Years since my only child died. He was 26. I have given away most of his things, but I still have his books, including the books of his childhood. I bring them out for great nieces and nephews these days.
    Ken was a note writer, and would pop notes in between the pages of some of my hundreds of books. A couple of weeks ago, I came across a note in The Collected Letters of Dylan Thomas, a book I’d not read for years. It was a painful, breathtaking, precious moment.
    It’s wonderful that Caemon’s clothes are going to children in need. There’s such a sense of synchronicity in this coming about via one of your precious boy’s nurses.
    I hope you don’t mind me sharing a little of my story. I did it because in my experience, although we never get over the death of a child, little by little we learn to live with it, to discover our new normal. We all live our grief differently. I talk to Ken and his dad (who died suddenly, just before the 10th anniversary of Ken’s death) every day. I will always be a mother and have a relationship with my son.
    I think of you both nearly every day. Thank you for continuing to share your journey. Your words are accomplishing far more, I believe, than you can begin to imagine.
    Hugs from Australia

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