Lisa and the Little Things

I’d like for you to imagine the place where you live.

Imagine the personal articles you associated with your spouse.

Now imagine having to discard them. Your partner is dead.

That’s been life lately. One room at a time, slowly because there’s simply so much to consider (clothes, books, accessories, spices I’ll never use, etc.), so much to discard because Lisa will not be returning to claim them. In an angry separation, of course, such items could be used as weapons; in this instance, they almost become relics.

Take for example her perfume bottles in the bathroom. I’ve had to throw them away; to look at them was like having little knives in both eyes. Now there’s very little of Lisa in that room; there’s a great deal more, of course, but I’ve had to think of in terms of one room at a time, not doing more at any one stage than I can, and leaving that room bare enough I can begin to re-decorate, a little.

As I’ve said, it’s the little things that hit and hurt the hardest. So they need to be replaced, these reminders, by whatever the survivor thinks should go in those places instead. Lisa’s grandmother Ann had it right; after her husband’s death she moved things around, and created new rules—for example, smoking was now permitted anywhere in the house, because as it was her place now, the rules were hers to make. Still, most often I’d find her in her favorite living-room chair pulling gently on a menthol cigarette, listening to the sounds outside as the next train from the coal fields passed not five hundred feet away from her back door.

There were always those trains. Lisa loved them as a childhood memory; I thought for certain one would crash and we’d all be toast.

I cannot imagine Ann’s life now; she’s lost her husband, daughter, and grand-daughter all within the space of a couple of years. She stays home much of the time as well. She’s a lovely woman, no kidding, and she has all my respect.

Meanwhile, Lisa’s soon to be interred at a cemetery near that house she loved, within earshot of those trains; her grandfather’s crypt is in the same room. Under the circumstances, that’s the ideal. She always mentioned several possible wishes, but returned each time to this. Therefore, that’s it. Now, I won’t be going there; I’ll be seeing her in a much more vital way when it’s time. Still, simply fulfilling her choice will be a wonderful thing. Be thou sure.

A bottle of women’s vitamins. Skin-care products. Brochures for performances and festivals she never got to attend. Those are the little things. Sometimes it hurts to come across them. It seems that I don’t want to throw these things away, in a fit of magical thinking (if I keep the house the way it was when she left, maybe she’ll come back). We’re past the one-hundred day mark, and it’s far too late. We all know she won’t be coming back, no matter how much we all want her to walk in through the front door of our lives again. She was never into practical jokes anyway. It was never like her.

When I’ve finished this ghastly task, then I’ll know how empty this apartment truly is. I don’t look forward to it.


About johnwylam1957

I'm a poet and teacher now living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
This entry was posted in On Lisa's Death: Trying to Survive the Unsurvivable and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Lisa and the Little Things

  1. Karen Craigo says:

    I don’t know how you do it, John. And those gorgeous clothes of hers! They’re too special to throw in a rag-bag. What do you do with such Lisa-defining, beautiful things? It must have been incredibly difficult but necessary to get rid of those perfume bottles, too.

    • johnwylam1957 says:

      It’s incredibly hard. Every item of her clothing weighs a ton. They’ll be donated, for sure. I just missed the deadline to give them to Gilda’s Club (named of course for Gilda Radner), but there’s a donation bin here in the building, so that’ll be fine. So long as other people can find uses for them. I’m told the first year’s hardest. That seems doubtful somehow. It’s now been a hundred days and it doesn’t feel a damn bit easier; friends help, though, and that remains true. Thank you, Karen.

  2. yorkstudentsaysay says:

    Hi John,
    We dont know each other, but Lisa was one of my professors during my undergrad at York, and is one of the most influential teachers of my entire life. I cant imagine how hard it is for you to start healing from the loss you have endured, and my heart and condolences go out to you and her family.
    I would like you to know, that Lisa and I had a very special bond over theatre and performance, one that extends beyond the classroom, student-teacher relationship. It is because of her now, that I continued onto graduate studies, delving deeper into issues that her and I chatted over. She was the one person that gave me validation in my academic interests. The most important thing she taught me is that its OK to explore parts of art… of life.. that others might find “weird”. And that you are your most interesting and authentic “you” when you let go of what others think. I was supposed to meet with her shortly before her passing, to discuss a performance art festival called Burning Man (perhaps one of the ‘weirdest’ performance festivals on this Earth). This is also the topic of my thesis. She was in many ways going to provide academic and personal support in attending this festival.

    Among many other events that occur at this weeklong event held in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, is the building and burning of a temple. Each year, an ornate and beautiful temple is constructed. Over the week, participants use this space as a place to mourn, grieve and leave letters, personal belongings, photos etc in memory of what or whoever they have lost, of whatever they are struggling to let go of. It is a process of acknowledging and releasing grief and loss. On the last night of the festival, 50,000 people sit and watch silently, as the temple is ignited until it is nothing more than ashes. There is a brief video project you can look at here…

    I am traveling to Burning Man this summer, as a part of my fieldwork research for my thesis. (A thesis she was excited about, and which in turn gave me the support I needed to keep on… while others like family and friends commented on what a “weird” subject to study in an academic sense). I think it would be a cathartic and healing moment, if I could bring something of Lisa’s to the temple, in an effort to remember and honour her. She was so supportive of her students interests, and I myself am still struggling to let go of the grief that comes with her unexpected passing. I really feel the performance lover in her would appreciate this…
    It is of course, entirely up to you, but if it would help you, I would feel honoured to bring something symbolic of Lisa, to the temple, and commemorate her and her love of performance, through this very special opportunity.

    I am currently an MA student at York, and can meet or arrange a time to talk with you about this further, if you are interested. If not, I completely understand.
    In any event, please know what a wonderful mentor Lisa was to her students. I loved her very much as a teacher and a person. And though many of her students haven’t met you, we in the York community feel an emptiness and great loss with her passing.

    Thank-you for your time, if you would like to speak further, please email me at
    as I will not be on this blog… Just singed up so I could reply to you.

    My sincerest support in this difficult time for you…

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