I wear dead people's clothes
I am a goofy, relatively immature 36 year old woman and I was an even more goofy and immature 22 year old-playfully calling my mom an old fart on her 50th birthday. We surprised her with a stripper who came to the house that night. He sat her down on a chair in the middle of the living room, turned on his music and slowly removed his fake police uniform leaving only the smallest, tightest black G-String. He was short and muscular and his body was red from too much tanning. He danced for her, and I remember at one point he turned around and kind of shook his ass in front of my mom’s face. She slapped it! There, in her funny looking wig and her plaid pajamas, slapping a stripper’s ass. I’d never laughed so hard. Six months later, my mom was dead. I was devastated.
My mom was the type of person you liked instantly. Warm and friendly and super funny and genuinely interested in the people around her. She made friends in line at the grocery store. She was magnetic. I loved and admired her fiercely, ever since I can remember, and when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphona during my senior year of college, I…wait…no…WHAT? This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. But it was happening and somehow my family and I stayed positive. During the chemotherapy and then the radiation, somehow we stayed hopeful. I was the one who shaved my mom’s head when her hair started to fall out. She told me my older sisters would’ve cried too much. Weeks later we covered her smooth bald head with temporary tattoos and took pictures of it. We had fun and we were silly, and even though her sickness was everywhere- all the time- things still seemed kind of normal. We never actually thought she would die. It was unimaginable, impossible. There was still so much life inside of her.
Things took a turn for the worse about a year and a half into her treatment. My step dad took her to the hospital after a particularly rough night. She was very uncomfortable; her breathing was strained. The doctors thought it was pneumonia or maybe some infection from the latest round of radiation. I visited her daily. I sat on her hospital bed and we played hangman. She won, like she always did. We talked about what we’d do when she got out of the hospital. She talked about how she missed our dog.
Then that morning. That horrible morning when my middle sister, Amy, and I went together to the hospital to visit her, and found our step dad in the hall outside her room crying. He told us that the tests came back. The cancer had spread. It was everywhere. There was nothing more to do. She was dying. I could barely stand up. We had a few more unbearably difficult days with her, we said our goodbyes and then one night, when I think she knew we couldn’t take it anymore, she slipped away with the help of a slow but steady morphine drip. I remember she opened her eyes a couple hours before she died. She looked at me and said, “Oh hi hunny”. She didn’t speak again after that.
I wear her clothes sometimes when I’m worrying about something, when I’m sad or stressed. Like when Amy had an MRI of her hip done earlier this week, I pulled my mom’s soft black sweater from the top shelf of my closet and wore it to work. I talked to Amy before her procedure and told her I was wearing mom’s sweater. “No, not that red one. The black one”. She was nervous about the procedure, and I think it helped her to know that I had something of Mom’s with me, even though it is kind of silly. My mom is not in that sweater. I know that. My sister knows that. It’s been washed countless times since she died, even her smell is gone. But still, to have something of hers close to me…it feels comforting. It keeps her on my mind, it keeps me feeling okay, it helps. And sometimes, you do something just because it helps. Because you don’t know what else to do. Because you can’t say to your sister, “Everything’s gonna be ok, I’m sure it’s nothing”…because you both know that shit can get real bad real fast and so instead you say, “Hey I’m keeping really good thoughts, I love you, and I’ve got Mom’s sweater on”.