Our mothers’ clothes and the silent stories they tell

I think it’s so interesting how connected we are, as women, to the material objects that made our mothers who they were. Whether they were girly girls or they dressed more modestly, memories of their clothes, accessories, and jewelry stay with us for many years after they are gone. It’s incredible how a piece of clothing can take you back in time and make you feel so many things.

I still remember having to go into my mom’s closet a few days after she passed away to pick out an outfit for her memorial service and cremation. During the haze of those first few weeks, I functioned like a zombie, with no sleep and with only the sole ability to follow my body’s reflexes – putting one foot in front of the other. I had to go into my mom’s closet alone because my dad wouldn’t do it, my brother was only 12, and my grandmother was too distraught. I picked out an outfit I thought she would like and shut the door. It was one of the most painful moments, when the magnitude of her death and my loss sunk in. Her belongings were all there, tidy and hung up on their hangers, but she was not.

 To some, clothes and bags and jewelry are only objects. But to the motherless daughter, they are a symbol of so much more. They are a collection of a life, of beautiful moments that now exist only in our memories. These objects represent a little girl looking up to her mom and wanting to be just like her. 

Later that year, I packaged up a bunch of her clothes and took them with me when my new husband and I bought our first home together. They’re still with me, four years later. Once in a while, I’ll wear something of hers. I’ll spray her perfume. I’ll put on her gold earrings. It brings me comfort. I feel like when I wear something  of my mother’s, her strength is with me. It hugs me and protects me, forming an invisible shield around me. I wear something of hers on days I need her most, like when I went into labour with my daughter and the day I wrote my real estate exam.

Slowly, I’ve been able to donate some of her things. It’s been difficult though, because every piece of clothing or jewelry tells a story of her life. This dress is the one she wore on my wedding day, hunched over in her wheelchair with a smile brighter than the sun. This clutch is the one she wore on my graduation day, beaming with pride. This hat is the one she bought for our vacation from the second hand store, which we never ended up going on because her cancer had spread. 

A woman’s closet is a very personal and symbolic place. Every piece tells a story. Every piece holds memories. Every piece holds promise of long-ago hopes and dreams. 

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Tomorrow is April 7th, or what would have been my mama’s 55th birthday

Tomorrow is April 7th, or what would have been my mama’s 55th birthday. 

Each year, the few days leading up to April 7th are strange and sad. I always have dark and emotional dreams in the week leading up to her birthday. My anxiety peaks and I generally feel like a mess. I experience a mix of emotions, centred around sadness, regret, and nostalgia about the good old days. The days when the simplest things would bring our family so much happiness. The days when we would have a nice dinner, tell jokes, and then have my mom’s favourite chocolate mousse cake. The days when she would open gifts and say with her usual warm smile and modest soft-spokenness, “you shouldn’t have”. The days when I always wished I could have gotten her more.

The first birthday in the year after she died was the strangest. I remember thinking how weird it is that when you die, everyone suddenly ignores your birthday. No one cares anymore. Or if they do, they don’t say it to your loved ones. Do they think it will make us sad? Do they realize that for us, it’s still April 7th, our mother’s birthday, even though she herself is not on this Earth anymore? 

Every other April 7th since I could remember, our house would be ringing with calls from friends and family wishing my mama a happy birthday. Having moved to the other side of the world away from all the friends and family she’s ever known at 33 years old, my mom loved those calls. They made her feel special and loved and rooted in something bigger than our little family, the three of us, in Canada. 

It’s a really difficult day. Being a new mother myself, I feel an extra sensitivity this year. But, I have made the commitment to celebrate my mom’s birthday every year. Why? 

Because no matter how sad it makes me, it’s an acknowledgment of her life and her legacy. If it wasn’t for her birthday, mine would not exist. And neither would that of my biggest, most beautiful blessing, my baby girl.

I’ve been talking to a few friends of mine who are also motherless daughters about what they do on their mothers’ birthdays. Some go for dinner, some have quiet time and talk to their moms, some tell stories with family… I love hearing about the different traditions. We will go to one of her favourite restaurants and have dinner in her honour. That’s our way of feeling close to her. I’ll pick out a special bouquet of her favourite Spring flowers. 

 How do you honour your deceased loved one on their birthday? 

Image: http://www.yourtribute.com/quote/isabel-allende-death-daughter/