The other day I was reading a conversation on Facebook in which a friend was talking about having to go through her deceased mother’s clothes, packing some away, giving the rest to charity. It is a sad yet necessary chore many of us who have lost loved ones have had to complete and experts will tell you that the chore itself is somehow beneficial to those left to perform the task.
As I read through the many comments left by others I was reminded of my own experience with this melancholy chore. I was left alone, with no family for hundreds of miles who might have helped me through it. In truth, I put off even attempting the job for months, as if by leaving all as it was before her death, I might give lie to the glaring fact that she was really gone forever.
Though I procrastinated as long as possible, there finally came a day when I could no longer ignore what had to be done. I had made the decision to sell the farm and move away and time for my departure was fast approaching. So I closed myself off in our bedroom and begin emptying her dresser and the closet of all her clothes, piling everything on the bed. Once done, I stood back and stared at the pile of clothes, jeans, jackets, blouses and shirts, each piece wither plain or fancy, was something she loved, something she wore, and I cried.
Somehow it felt as though I was being unfaithful to her. Banishing her belongings and her memory from my sight. It was while I stood over the bed with the tears flowing down my cheeks, that I noticed an old garment bag hanging from the otherwise empty rack in her closet. I had no idea what was in it, in truth I had forgotten she even had the thing and it was with great care that I reached in and removed it from the rack and placed it on top of the pile.
When I unzipped the bag to examine the contents I was almost undone. Inside the bag hung a simple, green, dress. I sank to my knees and buried my face in the soft material as memories flooded my brain and broke my heart all over again.
This was the dress she wore the first time we met in person. It was at Bush International Airport in Houston, her plane from Detroit had landed and she was the last passenger to disembark. I spotted her immediately, her strawberry-blonde hair, those beautiful, ice-blue eyes, all accented perfectly by that simple, green dress that ended just above her knees. This old cowboy had never seen anything so beautiful in his life and, to this day, I still remember how she seemed to float across the space between us rather than walk and how she didn’t hesitate when she reached me but instead, threw her arms around my neck and kissed me tenderly, saying: “Hello, cowboy.”
She wore the dress a few months later when we were married. It was a small informal wedding attended by a few friends from work and two of my sons there representing family. Her effect on me that night was even stronger than that first meeting and, like my old daddy use to say, “I didn’t know whether I was coming or going, or strapping a razor!” All I knew was that the most beautiful girl in the world was about to be my wife and I felt sorry for every man who was not me in that moment.
There came a day though, when she had to put that dress away. All the medications, the steroids, the doctors pumped into her caused a wildly horrible weight gain making wearing the dress impossible. She swore that one day she would be off all the meds and she would wear that dress again. She never did, but that’s okay with me. It did not change the fact that she remained the most beautiful girl in the world….no matter what she wore.
I remembered all of that as I knelt next to the bed with my face pressed into that dress and I knew what I had to do. Yes, everything was discarded that day, everything but that simple, green dress. I kept it with me and now…almost three years later, I still caress the cloth, hold it to my cheek, and whisper: “Hello, beautiful. I still love you.”
The experts were right, it helps and I can smile now when I do it.