A woman going to a high school reunion faces the puzzlement of “what in the world should I wear?” This time last year I was preparing to travel home for a such an event coupled with a visit to my parents. At first, I tried the way of the minimalist. Surely there was something – perhaps several somethings – that might suffice in my over-stuffed closet? But panic crept up and I found myself shopping for “just the right dress.”
Although it sounds superficial, shopping is something my mom and I always liked to do together. Growing up, I remember hanging out at the mall with friends, but true shopping sprees were reserved for my mom. She had the checkbook after all! But well into my adulthood, she had an eye, whether in person or in a catalogue, for what would look good on me. Once in a while, something she picked out would show up in my mail box. Sometimes this annoyed me even though that annoyance was ungracious, but more often than not, she would get it exactly right. So, as I searched for a reunion outfit, I was acutely aware that my best fashion consultant was in Texas and not in North Carolina shopping with me. After wallowing in indecision, I decided to take the runway to her. I bought several selections and took them home to San Antonio planning to return those deemed unacceptable. After dinner, I tried them on and she gave me her honest, sometimes too honest, opinion. “That is trashy. Take it back.” “That one does nothing for you. Return it.” “That one’s good but not for this occasion.” And finally, with a slight gasp, “Ah…I love that one. It’s perfect.” And then, “I want one just like it!”
The next day off we trotted to the nearby branch of the store where I had purchased the “just right” dress to find one for her. My mom had trouble walking or standing so she decided to sit in the car while I looked for the dress in her size and a few other things she wanted. I couldn’t find the dress just like mine. But I found another dress and I brought it to the window to show her. I received an enthusiastic thumbs up and purchased it. We had it tailored and she was all ready to go for the birthday party she would attend a week later. It was at that party that she would fall as she was leaving and break her hip. She would suffer for three and half weeks and then die. In the hospital, she told me she wanted be buried in that new dress I chose for her and a week or so later I duly delivered it to the funeral home.
During the weeks after her fall and fracture, I was back and forth between my current home in North Carolina and our family home in Texas. On the final trip, I was not anticipating her imminent death. But there it was and I was faced with choosing what to wear to her funeral. Although we often wonder why people focus on such details after a death, I think it serves a purpose. It gives our minds some space get used to a new reality and it gives us a chance to find small ways to honor the person that was lost.
In my case, I was texting back and forth with my husband urging him to make sure my children were fully presentable for this occasion. Through texted pictures, I signed off on every belt, sock, and tie choice. Then, I realized he’d have to dig out something appropriate for me to wear. He started texting pictures and nothing was right until a last bittersweet connection built over a lifetime of shopping trips together gave me the answer. On the day of my mother’s funeral, we would wear the dresses we chose for each other. I already had “just the right dress.”
But the dress no longer feels just right. Every time I think of wearing it, I change my mind. The shoes don’t work. It’s too light weight for the weather. I’m not sure I like the length. Not right for today. Not right for tomorrow. Not next week. Not ever? It seems like a waste.
But as I write this, a whisper of grief reminds me that this “year of firsts” with all its love, remembrance, reflection, and contemplation is ending. That ending is probably why I’m avoiding the dress. To wear it is to return it and me from the sacred space that I have given myself to grieve to embrace the full catastrophe* of the everyday. But if I could ask her, I know what she’d say:
“Take the dress to the tailor, maybe change it up a bit. Then it will be just right. Put it on and get going.”
Okay Mom. Will do.
*Zorba the Greek called his daily life — spouse, children, work — the “full catastrophe.” Most recently, this term has been embraced by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who writes about mindfulness practice.