On Packing Up and Letting Go

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. 

It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.

Mary Oliver


In July of 2012 I was packing up my house to put it on the market. I’d filed for divorce. My soon to be ex-husband had quit his job, and I’d been a stay at home mom for nearly 13 years. There was simply no way for us to stay in what I had once considered to be our dream home- the house I’d truly believed we would live in forever. Where we would have family reunions, where the kids would get married in the backyard, where we would grow old together. The day we moved in I saw all of those things stretched out in front of us.


Cut to less than two years later. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t have cared less about leaving that house. I hated that the kids hated to leave. I hated that my daughter needed to change districts just as she was entering middle school. I hated to leave my best friend, who lived next door. I hated to say goodbye to a neighborhood I loved. But by then, I also hated that house.

It was a Herculean effort to pack it up, and I did almost all of it alone. That is NOT because I didn’t have endless offers of help. My friends were amazing and would have done anything for me. I just… couldn’t. The process was so awful, so painful and humiliating. Every box felt like a defeat. Every family photo I took off the mantle felt like a failure. It was bad enough to have to do it, I couldn’t bear to have witnesses.

Over the course of my nearly 20 year relationship, I saved every letter and every card that we gave to one another.  When I was packing and came across that box of memories in my closet, I dropped it where I stood, and walked away. I couldn’t even look at it.

As I dismantled our family home, every time I came across something that was too painful to deal with, I threw it in that same box. Photos, keepsakes, anniversary gifts- these little wooden blocks with heart shaped map cutouts of places that, at the time, I believed to be sacred to us- Napa, Chicago, Jackson Hole, Seattle, Whistler, Boston. It was one of the loveliest presents he ever gave me. I threw in (and I mean literally threw) our wedding album. Our unity candle. The ring pillow I’d hand sewn for our wedding. Everything that made me wince, or cry, or fill with rage went into the box.


My first instinct was to set it on fire. My best friend Angela had a lovely fire pit, and I knew she’d be only too happy to light the match. Somehow, though, I knew not to do that. Somehow, I had enough clarity to know that I DIDN’T HAVE CLARITY ENOUGH to make that decision right then. And that I couldn’t un-throw something away. And that I might regret it. So I closed the box and taped it up. I took a big blue Sharpie and wrote on the top and sides, NOT YET.

The box moved with me to my new house, and I threw it under the stairs in the garage where I wouldn’t have to look at it. And I didn’t. Not until I was packing up again to move back to the east coast. By that time, I was in a relationship- which was part of the reason for the move.

When you are in a long distance relationship and there are three thousand miles between you and the person you love, Skype is your best friend. He and I would Skype every night. Sometimes, because of the time difference, he would fall asleep while we were skyping. Sometimes I’d disconnect- and sometimes I’d just leave it up.

One night, after he’d gone off to dreamland while we were chatting, I sat watching him sleep and realized it was time. He and I had been talking about the logistics of the move and all of the packing that I needed to do. Again. I was feeling utterly overwhelmed. But not alone. I knew I wasn’t alone, because he told me that. Every day. And suddenly, I had clarity.

I went down to the garage and dug out the box. I brought it up to my room, sat on my bed and looked at it. And looked at him. I knew I could not bring that box of darkness with me to my new life.

I took a deep breath and opened it up. I read each card, and then ripped it in two. I read each letter, and did the same. Not in anger. They just weren’t mine anymore. I went through our wedding album, took out a few pictures that I thought the kids might like some day, and then threw the rest away. I threw away the candle, and the wooden blocks. I looked at each thing. I held them in my hands. I let myself remember. And I threw it all away. I still couldn’t bear to have a witness, but I wasn’t alone- he was right there next to me, in the way that I needed him to be.

Mary Oliver was right, you know. She always is, for heaven’s sake. I realize now that the box of darkness was a gift. Both the figurative box of darkness- the brutal demise of my marriage; and the actual box that I’d just unpacked- the one that allowed me to say goodbye to my marriage in the way I needed to, once I was ready.  Sometimes a gift comes in terrible packaging. Sometimes it shatters your heart, and makes you doubt every little thing.

And I know- if you are in the middle of it, being told that one day you’ll think of it as a gift seems impossible.  Ridiculous. Maybe even a little insulting. I get that. I do. If someone had said that to me during the worst of it, I don’t know what I’d have done, but it probably would have resulted in jail time.  That’s okay.  Not all gifts are meant to be opened right away.  Just… Put it aside. Mark it NOT YET.  And, friend?  HANG ON. Both hands. The gift is there. It will take some time.  It will take distance, and healing, and perspective- but it will reveal itself when you are ready. I promise.

20 Comments on “On Packing Up and Letting Go

  1. woah, this hit me but in a totally different way. When I moved to Florida I had packed up all my stuff that was John and I’s and put it in a box and in a corner of a closet and left it there. Then it came time to come back here. When I moved back here I put some of the stuff out for the girls sake but alot of it stayed in the closet again. When Bill moved in slowly things came down and moved into the girls room and things started to just “go away”. I have had complete purge days where I have realized there is no need for me to hold on to things any more, like the box full of the sympathy cards….. I have a new life and I know he doesn’t want me hanging on to things anymore. There is something still in the closet. I haven’t let it go yet, but I will…I need to purge some of it and some of it I need to save for that special day for the girls.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You will never know how much I can relate to this new post. It made me cry and made me smile for the fact you were able to through away the ‘Not Yet’ and look forward to the future whatever it may hold. So proud of you. ❤ XO

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Laura, you are an amazing writer! what a gift you have….keep writing and posting! Thankful you are at a place in life you feel free to write and share your heart!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My journey was a little bit different in that I was the one to leave – partly because of the years of an awful marriage and then finally, his pack-rat-turned-hoarder syndrome. After he retired (and I was starting a new career) the house became filled beyond capacity. Stacks and boxes and piles everywhere. I felt suffocated.
    When it was time to change, I began the slow process of deciding what to take into my new life, picking through the hoard carefully for only those things I loved or personal items to pass along to adult children.
    There wasn’t much but what was there helped me begin again.


  5. My sister emailed me a link to this blog post. I have someone that gave me a “box of darkness”. My sister is the one person who understood, without me having to explain, why I’ve kept it… I hope one day I can throw it away and view it as a gift the way you have.


  6. Pingback: On Packing Up and Letting Go « jamiepeters48

  7. I know you wrote this last fall but I did this exact same process in August of last year. Dismantled our dream family home alone. It hit me so much harder than I expected. I wanted to be out of it so badly and was surprised how it shook me. I have my own box, the box of things I couldn’t bear to toss (I became an amazing tosser) and things I wanted to show my daughter. That she was so very much wanted (IVF baby) and we love her desperately. The box is under my bed now, and I look forward to the day when I have someone to throw it all out for. Maybe just for myself, but looking forward to that day.


    • It will come. I wrote it this past fall, yes. I threw my box away in late spring of 2014- my divorce was final in Oct 2012. It took me a long time. You’ll know when you are ready, sister. xo


  8. Reblogged this on Submission and the City and commented:
    I am still at the “not yet” phase, but each day I feel more healed from the harm that was done. I feel more of the incredible woman I was before someone I loved gave me this box full of darkness. Each day I am closer to feeling that this too was a gift…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. my box of darkness is coming….i will be leaving a 24 year marriage and my homeland to be with my Master,the Man i have been marking time and awaiting all these years….thank you for this gem.


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