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I Lost My Mom A Second Time When I Tossed Her Sweater

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Giving up her pink sweater crushed my teen-aged heart

A woman carrying three folded cozy sweaters
Dan Gould Unsplash

Our house had been descended upon by a bunch of women who came to get rid of my mom’s clothes.

She’d died in a car accident a couple of weeks before.

My dad was in a coma. In a blizzard, he’d been carefully driving the two of them home after a wonderful weekend of reuniting with family when the other car collided with theirs. The two people in that car were dead too.

I had just turned 15. My siblings were 16, 12, and 7 years old.

Two months before, we had moved to a new city and we quickly became involved in a new church community — something we did in every new city we’d moved to. This was city number five, church number five, school number six, and house number seven that I’d seen in my fifteen years. We were movers and shakers, we were. Movers for sure. And I guess, yes, we did like to shake things up.

Nothing prepares you for a loss like ours — so big and deep and wide. And no one knows how to deal with it in a way that won’t have ramifications of some sort. Everyone had the best of intentions, I’m sure. But oh man, no matter the good intentions, it was a confusing, energy-emptying, crushingly hard time.

Who knows who decided that it was time to get rid of my mom’s clothes? But when the idea came to the person that was in ‘charge’ of all things half-orphan/post-mom-death/mid-dad-coma, it happened very efficiently.

A church community is mostly a wonderful thing, especially in times of need. There is usually much support that comes in so many forms, including an unending supply of casseroles, countless prayers, and in this case, closet purging.

There could have been ten ladies in my parents’ bedroom with me that night or there could have been two. It felt like ten. I don‘t recall if my older sister was with us but I do recall that I felt alone despite the company. I mean we’d just moved there. I didn’t know any of these women.

Again, who decided this was a good idea?

Donations in one pile, trash in the other. Shouldn’t there be a ‘keep’ pile too? I wondered. Isn’t there always supposed to be a ‘keep’ pile?

There I was on my knees on the beige-carpeted floor, her clothes and black garbage bags all around. It couldn’t have been a massive job as we were not a family of means and so I doubt she would have had a considerable wardrobe. Some bags were stuffed, some were flopped over, half filled. In my pile to fold up and not keep was a pink sweater.

The pink sweater.

It had been her favorite and the one I loved most on her. Besides her morning robe, I don’t remember any other piece of clothing that she wore.

The sweater was Angora or fake Angora if that’s a thing, whatever was cheaper. It was so so soft. Horizontal ribbons of pink threaded through the yarn, silky and shiny. It was a light and airy sweater, a dressy one. She’d worn it at Christmas time and had looked so pretty in it.

I knelt with it on my lap, my fingers stroking the ribbon, staring. How could I use my timid voice in front of these stranger ladies to say that I wanted to keep this remnant of my mom’s wardrobe? I really wanted to keep that sweater. Like reeeeally. I can still feel the desperation today, thirty-seven years later, to clutch that sweater to my chest and hightail it out of that room.

What adult would understand? It would seem so childish, wouldn’t it?

When your mom dies and your dad isn’t around to make the decisions that only he should be making, then the other adults who are around surely know what’s best. Don’t they?

The words didn’t, couldn’t, come out of my mouth.

Ever so gently, I folded that soft, knitted piece of clothing. Slowly, I placed it into the chasm of the black, plastic bag in front of me with a lump in my throat. With my arm still inside the bag, my fingers touching the sweater, I looked around the room. Surely someone would see the expression on my face, recognize my inner turmoil and kindly ask, Would you like to keep that one, dear?

No one noticed.

The sweater moved on.

Whenever I talk to someone whose loved one has died, I always tell them to not make any decisions too fast. Take time to decide if you want to move out of the house you shared, if you want to clear out their room, or if you want to sell their car.

I so wish everything had been put in storage for a few years. Everything. A plastic Tupperware tumbler that might look scuffed and insignificant to one of those ladies (who undoubtedly came to clear out our kitchen once my dad had died and we had to move — again) might hold the memory of orange juice and Sunday morning breakfasts.

Of course, I am so thankful there were loving adults around to help; both relatives and church people who were overcome with the desire to do whatever they could in this most traumatic of situations.

I’d just like to have gone through it all myself once some time had passed. Two or three years maybe. For the four of us siblings to have made the decisions — toss, donate, or keep.

And to be fair some things were put away for us — some wine glasses, a desk, a loveseat, a clock. But I didn’t want any of those.

I wanted the pink sweater.

At least I can still see her in that sweater in my mind’s eye and I’m sure one of us has a picture of her wearing it.

It’s not the same but it will have to do.

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No, I don't recall this, nor do I remember being there. But like I've said before, there's a feeling of amnesia around certain things for me. I think I may have been so mad, that whole scenes are suppressed. And yet others are so fresh and tangible, even now, like the feeling of a soft, pink sweater, and the unimaginable sorrow remembering it, I remember that pink sweater, it was lovely, we do have a photo of her in it. In my mind's eye, she's sitting in our livingroom (on the banana yellow chair or the orange one) looking at the camera as we opened our presents on Christmas eve in Brandon or Ottawa. I would have wanted her beige sweater…

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