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the things that matter

when the table turns: the things that matter

by Judy
August 16, 2015

I didn’t know what it would be like to go through my mother’s clothing…so many beautiful and familiar clothes that she had worn over many years and still so many of the clothes were so modern. She never dressed like what one would imagine an “old” person would. Her clothes were brightly colored – sometimes quite elegant and sophisticated and sometimes quite hip and young. She had always loved clothing and often dressed quite casual, but always with a flair – eye-catching earrings, colorful scarves, inexpensive but fun necklaces. She could wear any color and still look good. Not many people can do that. I had been so used to my mom’s way of dressing that now in retrospect I realize it was unusually refreshing especially when she got older and still looked so young in many ways.

So I didn’t know what it would be like to go through her clothes. I started with an easy area – all her many colored camisoles that she wore under blouses and jackets. I went through them quite easily – put aside less than ten for myself as most were too large, but I chose a few that reminded me so much of her and then offered any to Pat, my mom's loyal nurse's aid for the past six years, who picked out some and the rest were going to be donated to the Church thrift shop. That was the beginning and it was surprisingly easy to do.

The next step were tops – blouses, both dressy and casual. I tried on all of them – every single one and in the end kept more than I would have thought. Then Pat went through them and again took some for her and her daughter. I put away a few for my cousin and again the rest went into bags to be given away.

As this process proceeded, I had different responses. Sometimes I would remember how beautiful my mom looked in a certain top and then when I put it on, it was not the same at all. It didn’t make sense to keep it, but I was just left with the image of how she looked – so very elegant.

And at the same time I was aware that in the end the clothes really were not so important. For my mom who kept her eyes closed for the last year or more of her life, what she wore became less important. It wasn’t only that she could not see well, but as she slowed down and was confined to her bed most of the time, her values changed too. What became most important was how someone touched her – holding hands, kindness and soft funny exchanges. Where did clothes fit into this picture? More in the background. Yes, she still wanted to look good when a friend or relative was visiting. She would have lipstick and rouge put on her and wear a nice top. That was almost in her DNA. But what was really important was the sound of someone’s voice and how loving they were. She listened to the stories of people’s lives. She listened and quietly took everything in.

When one is letting go of so much – in a sense saying good-bye to Life – unable to walk, see, and even remember in the same way, then what is left? Just the human contact with those she loved. In that state of letting go, “things” don’t have the same value.

So in the end my mother’s beautiful clothes did not carry the meaning or impact I thought they would and at the same time I was distinctly aware of each item – when and where she got them, how often she wore them, her favorite items – what she treasured. Also how much she liked to wear pink. She said everyone looked good in pink. Not sure if that was true, but she did for sure

Perhaps later in time, I will give away even more, but for now it feels right. Fortunately I don’t have to rush this process. I am not getting rid of her condominium for the moment and so much is still here. Her paintings fill the walls, her sculptures and the boxes that she collaged and painted later in life when it was more difficult for her to paint. It is all here and comforts me…gives me a kind of joy... honors her life.

In the end however the things that really matter have very little to do with “things” and everything to do with love and care, with the heart. Will I ever forget my mom? No. What remains with me is her spirit, her delightful humor, her laugh, the touch of her hands and how much she cared.


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