Heaven Scent

I remember the feel of his hair, wiry from the side effects of the immunotherapy treatment. I remember the smell of his pillow. I remember how as he became weaker, thinner, he wanted a beanie cap to keep his head warm. Thus began the transferring of the aroma of him, the molecules of his essence, to one hat after another rather than to the pillow, which in any case was now with him on the couch rather than in our bed. I threw away all of the linens we owned the morning of his death. I couldn’t bear to nestle into them ever again, those sheets so reminiscent of the lovers we had been and could be no more. I washed for the last time all of his beanies and put them away, intending to donate them come fall. 

A few days ago, as I searched for my own wool hat on the first day of cold New York City weather, I took the beanies out of the drawer one by one. It is a commonplace that smell is the most primal of our senses, the one most associated with nonverbal memory. I held each cap to my nose, trying to conjure him, trying not to lose that essence of him, hoping to imprint him deeper into my animal brain, so that even his death could not sever our physical connection. The smell was still there, if faint, or perhaps, imagined. I wanted more.

I walked to the closet where his flannel shirts still hang and buried my face in the one I most associated with him, an LL Bean plaid lined in fleece. Dan was always cold, even before he got sick. Before cancer, before dysphagia, before a trache tube, he had been a voracious eater. I used to laugh that he had the metabolism of a teenager, burning his calories so fast that he needed these many layers to stay warm. My tears fell as I buried my face in this remnant of a life gone too soon. Were they tears of sadness? Joy at the memory of him in better times? Pity for a widow consoling herself like a toddler with her comfort object? Does it matter? 

I deposited the beanies in a plastic bag already overstuffed with his dress shirts and a few of my own castoffs. In a burst of resolve, I marched the four blocks to the Salvation Army Family Store on 96th Street. Always a bit worn down at the heels, now the storefront’s corrugated metal rolling shutter was padlocked. Spray paint advised that the store was closed permanently. I started to cry. Determined to follow through, I walked two blocks to another charity donation site and left the bag, exiting quickly before I could change my mind. 

Waiting for the light to change at the corner of 96th Street and West End Avenue, I felt Dan’s presence, his scent in my nostrils, his voice in my ears. 

“You’re going to be alright,” he said. 

I shook my head no. 

“Yes, yes you are.” He sounded so sure. “You can do this.”

“Please just walk me home, please don’t go!”  I said under my breath as I waited at the busy intersection for the walk sign to appear. 

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Just as the light changed, I felt heat rise from my chest to my face. Was I going crazy thinking that my dead husband was speaking to me? As I threaded my way through the crowds of schoolchildren and their parents exiting from PS 75, I replayed over and over what I had heard, what I had felt, what I thought had happened in those brief moments. Back in my apartment, I took off my coat and hung it in the closet. Then I removed my hat and pressed it to my face. It smelled of Dan. Was it a miracle? A hallucination? 

“But you don’t believe in those things,” I told myself. “There must be a rational explanation.” 

Shaking, I reminded myself that my hat had been stored for six months in a drawer with his beanies, so of course it could have acquired their odor. The flush in my cheeks began to subside. Logic had prevailed.  Or so I thought. But maybe, just maybe, this bit of animal memory was heaven scent. Which is true? Does it matter?

35 thoughts on “Heaven Scent”

  1. Conversations with my departed husband and his commentaries still come and go for me, almost four years later. So do unusual visitations from other beings. I sobbed one night because I’d never hold his hand again and the next day a gorgeous red dragonfly landed on my hand and remained absolutely still for 10 minutes. Of course it was him. Or not. And why not? I still have his last pair of brand new pajamas from the final time he went to the hospital though he never wore them when he came home to die. I brought them with me from NY when I moved into an assisted living facility in Ohio. I never wear them but…His audial voice is always welcome and nourishing and less poignant but always a spark of Love when I need it most. Thanks as always for your wonderfully written words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I so relate to everything you say here. I am reminded of a few words of wisdom someone shared with me: “A life may end, but a relationship lives on.” Indeed, and in sometimes mysterious ways. Such a ping ponging between absence and presence, yes?!


  2. I am so glad you had that experience, that sense of Dan with you, reassuring you that you’d done the right thing with his hats and clothes and would be okay. Only your feelings about it matter; who cares what anyone else might think? I talk to thunderheads because they spark vivid memories of my father. Crazy? Maybe, but it brings me comfort.

    Your story is beautiful, and beautifully written.

    Liked by 1 person

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