Monday, May 23, 2011

The Trappings of Love

trappings [trap-ingz]:
1. articles of equipment or dress, especially of an ornamental character.
2. conventional adornment; characteristic signs: trappings of democracy.
3. the accessories and adornments that characterize or symbolize a condition, office, etc: the visible trappings of success 

We all know what the traditional trappings of success (based on the American capitalist definition of "success" at least, meaning financial success) -- fancy cars, watches, flashy jewelry, a nice home, etc.  But what are the trappings of love?  What does Edwin McCain mean when he sings, "Tell me that we belong together.  Dress it up with the trappings of love"?  Is he singing about diamond rings? Heart-shaped picture frames?  Roses in a crystal vase?

To me, the "trappings of love" are those seemingly mundane objects that aren't produced, marketed, or sold as objects of romance.  Books, food, toiletries -- these are as much the trappings of love as any flower ever was.  Those items that exist to support one's day-to-day existence are not important for what they are, but for what they represent.  A "trapping of love" can be something as simple as a toothbrush, kept next to another toothbrush in the cupboard, signifying a shared life, a shared space, a shared level of intimacy. 

The symbolism of everyday items as a representation of a shared life makes it especially hard for a grieving widow or widower to part with certain items.  It's hard to clean out the fridge to toss food items that were only there because your late husband liked them.  It's a reminder that every aspect of your world has changed, right down to the contents of your pantry.  Toiletries are especially  hard -- they are so closely attached to our late ones' bodies, their day-to-day routine.  Toiletries remind us of that everyday intimacy we had, of the very essence of living with another person and sharing a life with them, down to the mundane details of that life.  

 I've heard stories of widows and widowers who never touch their late spouse's items, who leave their dearly departed's things just how he or she left them -- eyeglasses on the end table, unfinished book on the headboard, toothbrush on the counter, bathrobe hanging on a hook, clothing hung in the closet, etc.  I took my time getting to these things myself, and only when forced to deal with them out of necessity (having a housesitter move in, then selling the house).  For anyone who finds themselves struggling while cleaning out the closet or going through a loved one's toiletries, please be gentle with yourself.  For those who know someone who has lost a spouse -- please offer to help with this task, but only when the grieving person is ready.  It is harder than anyone would imagine.  It took me hours, broken up over many days, and countless tears.  I remember especially having a hard time parting with his pomade, which had a couple strands of his hair in the goop on the inside.  I seriously considered extracting the hair with tweezers and keeping it -- just so I would have something physically left of him!  I considered how silly it would be to have two pieces of light red hair in a Ziploc baggie, how likely I was to lose it (especially seeing as it would likely be mistaken for a used, empty baggie), and how much I'd beat myself up when that inevitably happened.  Sobbing, I made myself pitch the pomade, hair and all.  

However, I did keep some of Brian's personal effects. Some of things that I can't use myself -- his money clip, glasses case, cufflinks and a few other things -- are in a tote my closet, and I feel good knowing I can touch them and see them whenever I want.  I like being able to hold onto the things that he carried with him, that were so close to his body.  It makes me feel closer to him and like he is still with me.  I had some of his Chicago Bears shirts made into a quilt, and kept a select few other items of clothing of his, enough to fill one drawer.  I still sometimes put on one of his big shirts to sleep or lounge in, I use his razor (after realizing men's razors are better than women's) and I still have two of his bottles of cologne in my bathroom, "hidden" among my own perfumes.  (By the way, this is a great tip for any widows or widowers who are re-entering the dating world -- keeping some of your late one's toiletries mixed in with your own is a good way to be able to hold onto tangible representations of your shared life without anyone knowing that but you!)

Now, amongst my own bottles of perfume and a couple of bottles of Brian's cologne, sits a small bottle of Antonio's cologne.  He's got a couple drawers' worth of things at my place, and I at his.  We have spare toothbrushes at one another's apartments, not to mention spare running shoes.  New trappings of love, symbols to the rest of the world that we have a place in one another's spaces and lives.  Not a marking of territory, but rather a symbol of shared space.  We've blurred the lines between our lives, and to me it is the toothbrushes, the pjs, the loads of laundry done mixed together of both our clothes, that are the "accessories and adornments" that characterize or symbolize love.

I'm lucky enough to have shared a life with Brian, and I still love having a few of the trappings of that life around.  Most people probably think it's weird that I have Brian's cologne alongside my perfumes and Antonio's cologne, or that they each have their own space in my dresser drawers.  However, to me these are the trappings of love -- the representations of the love I once had, and the love I have now.  These seemingly mundane things bring a smile to my face because they remind me that I'm lucky enough to have had love and shared a life with Brian, and now I'm lucky enough to have found love with someone who has never made me feel apologetic for honoring, remembering, and celebrating my past.


  1. Love that you have found a place for your "trappings." Never apologize for that!

  2. Thanks, Ellie. Thanks for helping me deal with some of those issues in Iowa, too! I'm eternally grateful to you for that, my friend.

  3. I really identified with this post in my own way. It took my dad a while to want to purge all my mom's clothes from their house, but when he did, he wanted it all gone in one fell swoop. He wasn't insensitive about it; it was just what he needed to do for himself. He didn't throw anything away and wanted me to have it all. I wanted it all as well (I had some of her stuff already but wanted EVERYthing). But when it came to the clothes, they literally remained stuffed in the trunk of my car for close to a year before I felt ready to sort through them. I knew there were some pieces that were going to be sentimental that I'd want to keep and others I could donate without hesitation. But the going through them just seemed overwhelmingly agonizing. Finally, a friend who also lost her mom young pointed out that it was probably worse on me to continue carrying them around in my trunk; I might not be able to see them, but knowing they were there was causing me issues. It struck a chord, and then it felt like the right time. And my friend was right; finally getting it done felt better than carting them around, but it's true that I had to do it in my own time when I was ready. It wouldn't have been the right thing before then.

    When I came across one of her outfits, there was one of her hairs on it. I broke down crying and just held it up and looked at it. Just seeing that actual piece of her... Well, then somehow I dropped it. Then I really flipped out, and I mean flipped out. My now-husband came running in to find out what was wrong, and I started wailing how I'd lost her hair. He got down on his hands and knees with a flashlight until he found it. I did save it. I don't know what good it does me, but I couldn't bear to toss it. For you, though, I think you made the right decision for YOU, and that's all any of us can do in our grief.

    I think it's wonderful that both Brian and "Antonio" can have places in your heart AND your home.