As long as I knew my husband, he has been a fastidious man. He liked the house kept a certain way, and wasn’t afraid to do what was necessary to ensure it was so (including vacuuming, the dear). His favorite wedding gift was a steam cleaner, and his proudest investment was the Dyson Animal (named “Barney” by a friend of ours, because as she said ‘it’s big; it’s purple, and it sucks’).
Unfortunately for him, while I have always been a clean person (I cannot abide mold or dust), I am not a tidy person. I’m quite visual, and need things to be where I last saw them – for me, out of sight becomes very quickly out of mind.
When we got married, he lamented to his parents that I was messy. His parents, in their infinite wisdom, assured him that we would work it out. And work it out we did. We established areas that could be maintained to my level of tidiness (mostly inside of certain cabinets and drawers that could easily be closed), and the rest of the house would be kept to his level of cleanliness and order.
I consider it one of the lasting and most visible testaments of my love for him that throughout his illness, I kept the house to his preferred level of tidiness (the gift from many generous friends of a cleaning service went a long way towards making this feasible, and I am grateful to those friends who made it happen). Even in rooms where he rarely had the energy to venture, I did my best to keep it so that if he did, it would be presentable and comfortable to his standards.
I am fascinated that now, nearly two months after his death, I still find myself keeping the house as much as I can to that standard. Okay, yes, I’m slipping back to my preferred habits, but slowly. I find myself agitated if I leave the laundry in the dryer too long, hearing his admonishments that it will get wrinkled. Like him, I find myself tucking things into cabinets and boxes, to keep counters and ledges clear. I tuck my shoes away onto a shoe rack when I walk in the door, as opposed to just kicking them off in a corner. And the vacuum and I are becoming better acquainted.
Sometimes, keeping the house this way makes me angry. It makes me feel like I’ve trapped myself in a pattern, and keeping the house to his standard is my way of not letting go. I worry that keeping the house this way is a sign of obsession.
Sometimes, keeping the house to his preferred standard makes me wistful. I wonder if he noticed, I wonder if he cared, I wonder if he appreciated it (I think he did, I’m sure he did). I wonder if it makes him happy, wherever he is in the aether, that I still keep it tidy and the way he would have wanted it.
Mostly, I think that keeping the house this way shows my continued love for him, but in a way that only I know is connected to loving him (let the rest of the world think that I’m a neat-freak).