Family · Grief · Life

The Flowered Shirt

I was wearing a flowered shirt when my sister told me that our mother was dying. 

I was definitely wearing something on the bottom half of my body — possibly a denim skirt — but only the shirt is there in my memory, vivid and bold. I’d never worn it before, and had hung it in the closet of the guest room I was in. There were enough hangers in the guest room for all the things I pulled out of my suitcase as tight, careful rolls, and I’d been surprised. There were never enough hangers. 

My clothes were hanging in order of their use, Sunday’s clothes worn and back on the hanger on the left, all the way over to Saturday’s outfit on the right. It sounds more neurotic than it was — every day that week had a different purpose. Monday was a work day, and I drove to meet clients I’d never seen in person before. Tuesday was last-minute errand day with the bride. Wednesday was pedicures and rehearsal dinner, and my bridesmaid dress was next, for the wedding on Thursday. The flowered shirt was vibrant and joyful and I’d known I was going to be happy that day. I wanted clothes that fit the mood.

“She’s dying,” my sister said over the phone. Our family never used waffle words around death anyway, and clarity was too important in that moment. I was standing outside, my back against the rough-cut tan brick of the spa building, and I bent over at her words, left arm pressed into my stomach, right hand holding the phone to my ear. The June sun was warm on my back, the East Coast air still chilly. It wasn’t even ten in the morning. A man walked toward the front doors of the spa, slowing as he caught me in his peripheral vision. I turned my head away, and when I looked back he was gone.

The father of the bride found a flight I could take home and told me I had twenty minutes. I packed a bag and changed my clothes. I wanted to be comfortable on the plane, and when I looked at myself in the mirror, the splash of fuchsia roses on my shirt hurt my eyes. I slid the shirt back onto its hanger, still in Wednesday’s place. The dress to its right would never be worn. 

My clothes came home to me a month later, packed by someone else after the wedding, loaded into someone’s trunk, stored in the bride’s parents’ house, and carried on the final leg of the journey by the bride herself. She was sorry she couldn’t be at the funeral, she said as she stood in my driveway, and I laughed. It sounded a little wild.

My belongings sat for a couple of days, but I eventually opened the suitcase and unpacked, sorting toiletries into a pile and dirty clothes into the hamper. The flowered shirt came out with creases where it had been folded. I shook it out and looked it over. It was a nice shirt. Into the hamper it went. 

I owned that shirt for two more years, and it never left the closet. I examined it periodically, holding it up against pants or shorts, pulling out a skirt occasionally. It never seemed quite right. 

There were a lot of things that never seemed quite right again.

4 thoughts on “The Flowered Shirt

  1. That Sunday you speak of is the day we met in person. I felt so badly for you later that week, worse than if I hadn’t met you in person (it’s not the fault of either of us because I wouldn’t have missed it for anything).

    I can’t remember what I was wearing when the hospice nurse came to talk to my sister and my sister called me into the room. It had been a long weekend — longer than it should have been as helpers didn’t show up — but the arm-across-the-stomach pose sounds quite familiar. Protecting your own insides against the blow.

    I love your writing. This time it took me back to a sad time but one that I was blessed to be a part of. Thank you for that! xo

    1. That was SUCH a week, MEA. I’m so glad I got to meet you before it all went south. <3

  2. Carol, bless you for writing this. Your words are so pure, descriptive, and emotionally evoking. I still have tears in my ears as I type. The loss of a parent, a good parent, never, ever leaves you, nor should it. Thank you so much for sharing this moving, loving, sad story.

  3. Carol,
    My dad’s mother died on his birthday and Mother’s Day. He could never enjoy either occasion as he had previously, and he couldn’t stand the sight of the suit he wore to the funeral. I was just a little kid, but his grief is a vivid memory for me. Your beautiful writing about the shirt brought it all back. Thanks for sharing your experience, and I hope that sharing helped your heart to heal. Even just a little. 💕

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