Getting rid of her clothes
SUNDAY, November 29 – Sleepless night. The first since Jennifer’s death. I stagger to the john and try, in vain, to piss away yesterday’s skid marks. Then, I happen to see the shelf with the toilet freshener and some candles. There’s also a mug with a toothbrush, and a little jewelry box with two tampons. I’d never noticed them before.
I throw them all out. Stubborn traces of a past you have no desire to erase. Jennifer always saw to it that the house was spic and span and I cling to that thought.
Then, a grin appears on my face. Just look at me, cleaning house. Who would have thought it? I start on the second drawer of her dresser, then the third, followed by the bottom one. It’s not easy. Understatement. I feel as if I’m doing something furtive. As if any minute someone could walk into the room and catch me at it. But at what?
My heart is pounding. My arms feel weak and they’re trembling from the tension. Last week my mother-in-law called about a pair of shoes that Jenn had bought in Italy with money that she had sent. I set them aside. I make a mental note to email Jenn’s best friends, K and S, to ask if there’s anything of Jennifer’s they’d like to have. Maybe a T-shirt with a funny slogan.
I stuff the bedding into the empty drawers. The bottom one holds her favorite blanket, the purple-pink-green afghan. I leave it there, reserved for special occasions like when the kids are sick. I hold it to my nose and smell it. I’m making headway. I decide to tackle the large wardrobe with the shoes and dresses.
The shoes are the easy part. I don’t have a shoe fetish and Jenn was no Imelda. The bag is full in no time, but the dresses are a real trial. A few are downright unattractive, but I had long ago mastered the art of damning with faint praise. Most of them bring back lovely memories of Jenn: Summers, sidewalk cafés, and Jenn on her bike.
Suddenly Eamonn is standing next to me. Until quite recently he’d been adamant. ‘We’re not going to throw away Mom’s clothes.’But, now he’s seen me at work and he understands that the time has come and it’s okay. He thinks it would be a great idea to donate her clothes to charity, ‘since that’s what Mom did with her organs. That way, something good will come from them.’
His eye falls on a shirt. ‘I always liked this one. Can we keep it?’ Of course, along with a few other things. Sander walks in and wants to know what we’re doing. ‘We’re making room for your clothes.’ Casually I ask him if there’s anything he wants to save, something he likes that would remind him of Mom.
‘Yes, maybe that dress?’
A heavy burden falls from my shoulders: the whole business of clearing out Jenn’s things suddenly feels like a piece of cake. Easy as pie. Again, I realize that when you carry a load together, nothing is impossible. Much as I have discovered when we use each other’s shoulders to cry on, sometimes the smallest shoulders are the strongest.
Eamonn falls backwards onto the bed, between the clothes and the garbage bags. ‘Why is it that women need so many clothes?’
He picks out a pair of high-heeled shoes from under the bed, puts them on and prances around the room. Then he answers his own question: ‘I think it’s because women always want to look fancy.’
I think you’re right, I say, adding: And Mom always looked fancy.’ Especially in those dresses.
She always looked more like 19, never 41 or 93, the age she should have reached. I wonder if it’s too soon to clear her things away? Grandma told me that she herself was too quick to get rid of her mother’s clothes. Time will tell. To be on the safe side, I find a place for the fourteen garbage bags up in the attic. Not everything is gone.
11:30 – Sander sits down next to me. His face is tear-stained. He grabs hold of me and says: ‘Do you know what I never actually realized? That we’ll never see Mom again. Never.’
That is the cruelest thing about death. That realization. I can’t fathom it either, the thought that I’ll never see Jenn again. That realization comes to me, little by little. Even though I know it’s true, it hasn’t sunk in right away. My own father died when he was 55 and I was 13. It took an eternity for me to accept that.
There’s something else, that’s perhaps, even more difficult to accept: how my memories have faded. At some point, one forgets things. His voice, his face, his past. That’s why earlier this week I emailed Jenn’s Facebook friends and Gmail contacts, asking them to write down any anecdotes or happenings they remember from the period that they knew her.
Various reactions have already come in. Every story makes me cry. Jenn in college, in high school, even in Kindergarten. Still, right after the tears, comes the smile as these simple testimonies bring Jennifer to life again and, in that sense, time is on our side.
When my boys are grown-up men and the memory of their mother has irrevocably dimmed, these stories will help them to remember her and what she was like, according to her friends. Perhaps, that makes her eternal absence a tiny bit easier to bear.