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.