I’ve been wearing a piece of mom’s clothing most days. Like her stretchy AG teal and black polka dot Petite cords, white drawstring pajama pants with frogs on them (she collected frogs – a seemingly random collection decision with no real story behind it that I can uncover), and crisp white and pink cropped cotton pajamas from the Petites department at Saks. Colorful striped knee-highs. Pashminas. Jeggings. Clothes I would never have chosen, but I find myself weaving into my wardrobe now with a certain amount of urgency.
I look down at my legs, my arms, or my feet shorn in these totally familiar fabrics and patterns and they remind me of her doggedly upbeat approach to life and how she embraced color up until the end. Let’s just say the woman loved her some salmon and turquoise.
Each season, as I gather the clothes the kids have grown out of and figure out the best place to donate them, I don’t usually think of the pants and dresses and shirts with much sentimentality. But if, years later, I see something worn by a friend’s daughter or son I’ve passed them on to, I acutely remember all the moments that Z or M rocked those outfits. I think about when I bought the pieces, how many times I washed them, and all the places we went when Z wore those purple clogs or M that striped blue and white sweater.
And so now these mundane items of mom’s feel precious and crucial. They are mostly comfy clothes, which add a layer of poignancy. Because of her illness, which initially manifested itself as a skin disease, the last few years she would only wear the softest cottons that didn’t irritate her skin. She favored leggings and turtlenecks and soft wrappy sweaters. Her style adjusted to her sickness.
Mom had this amazing attitude that we used to make fun of. She had an obsessive need to see the positive in any situation and to spin every story to a good outcome. She would not tolerate self-pity or delving in the negative. She was not interested in being depressed or anxious. She was able to shrug. A lot. But she always knew who she was. I admired this in her, but never truly understood the amount of strength it took to undertake.
That’s why now, wearing these clothes, these Judi-like pieces she wore next to her skin, imaging her choosing them from a store or later, when shopping wasn’t something she wanted to do, from the internet, sitting at her desk or lying on her bed, feels so important. Like she is trying to encase me in love and show me how to be strong and how to go on without her guidance and be there for those who need me. I am taking her in while she hugs me in lycra and modal cotton.
Wearing her clothes feels like a mantra is making itself known to me. It’s not quite her mantra: “Don’t worry, Be Happy.” Mine is still cloudy, but the words are building from a feeling I get each day when I put on her scarf or her socks or her t-shirt. The words are not obvious, but the fabrics and the memories are there to fold into while the intention makes itself clear.