I sit in my laundry room sifting through a large plastic tub of my mother’s stylish clothes. Piles build around me: one for a friend who is a similar size on bottom, another for a friend with a comparable built on top, yet another stack for Goodwill.
Each item makes me pause, as I fold it lovingly in my lap before casting it away. I think of the care that my Mother put in to looking nice. Her love of shopping sometimes a love above all others. I think of how exceptional she looked in this black cotton skirt with the edge of tulle showing at the hem or that shorter-skort that she could still carry off at seventy because of what she called her “chicken legs”. Her image - young-but-not-too-young – is always there in my mind, as if it could still stand on two legs and walk through my kitchen door.
She will never wear any of these clothes again though she would try if I let her. I have somewhat guilty absconded with them, picking them hurriedly from hangers out of her closet and stuffing them into “garbage bags” while she dozed in her easy chair just a few steps away. If she had known what I was up to, she would have asked me to leave them, saying that she can still wear them, that she might still need them.
But her dying body, reduced down from a robust size 18 to a skeletal – for her tall frame – size 14, swims in anything she tries to wear from her pre-cancer days. By a cruel twist of fate she is now – finally - that size she always dreamed of being but could never achieve no matter how many Weight Watchers meetings she attended.
If they were left in her closet she would continue to choose them – perhaps in a state of confusion, perhaps in a state of denial – despite all the lovely new things we have chosen together from the smaller women’s department. And I just can’t stomach her anymore in a once elegant top, now drooping down over her sagging breasts. In the right fitting items she can, on a good day, still be somewhat classy.
Once I am done, I make my rounds dropping off packages here and there before turning to the mall to buy her more bottoms. No skirts anymore. It seems so strange and foreign to shop for this woman who always shopped for herself, my father, my husband, me, my sister, my brother, his spouse and all our children whenever the mood struck her, which was often weekly. It doesn’t seem appropriate that I am standing there selecting colors, and fit, and style – including elastic-waist-band capris – when she probably would not have been seen dead in this department, or with these old lady pants in her hand. But Ralph Lauren and Talbots don’t make many easy-on pants. I guess their customers never find themselves incontinent, in wheelchairs.
My final errand of the day is something for her to wear for her funeral. Talk about beyond my abilities. How does one even begin to purchase an outfit that will never see the light of day, never swoosh elegantly into a room on the handsome frame of a larger-than-life lady? I study necklines and sleeve lengths trying to picture her lying sedately in a satin-lined casket, hair and make-up all done and my head and heart swim. No daughter should have to do this, but yet who better is there?
As I drive to her apartment with my purchases I know I will share with her the pants I bought, hoping they lift her spirits some. I pray she will not ask why she couldn’t have come with me to shop. I will not even carry in the jewel-green suit-dress hanging in my car because we don’t talk about her funeral or her death – though it looms all around us. That I will have to secret in, like I secreted out her XL outfits, and store in the back of her closet only to be handed over to the undertaker when he comes to take her from me. As I have taken her clothes from her.