Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Grief in the Form of a Coat

Today marks 15 years of writing here. It doesn't seem possible, and yet the adult-sized Max, who I wasn't even pregnant with then, exists fully today and is going to high school in the fall. I don't write as much as I used to, but I still often think about life as I would write it. A lot has changed for that 29yo me, but the 44yo me still feels like I have a lot more to go. Here's a piece on grief and a coat. My mom passed away two years ago next week.


As the parent of a theater kid, it’s not unusual for them to go rifling through your closet, looking for potential costume ideas. For my daughter Hannah, I think that’s been happening since she was in the sixth grade, and needed to dress as a somewhat “professional looking” character for her role in a production called “A Play Without Words.” For her latest role she was to play an everyday teenager, but for some reason her everyday puffer jacket wasn’t appropriate, according to the costume department at her high school. So she went to my closet and found a blazer that she liked, and then I suggested she look through the coat closet, because who knew what might be lurking in there.

The following morning I came downstairs around 6:45, before my son was due to leave for school, and saw her findings hanging on the back of a chair at the dining room table. There was the blazer that I had already seen, and then another coat that looks, well, a lot like the coat I wear every day: black and white checkered. Knowing that it might be the last time I saw the coat for a while, I walked over to get my gloves out of the pockets because I didn’t want to be without them for the next couple of weeks. Reaching in the pockets to retrieve the woolen gloves I expected to find, I found a wadded up ball of tissues instead. I didn’t remember having left any tissues in there - usually I’m throwing out used masks these days - but there were tissues. I reached for the other pocket only to find more tissues. That wasn’t right at all. But it wasn’t until I turned the coat around and saw the black mourner’s ribbon still attached to the front lapel that I knew I was looking at my, well, not everyday jacket.

Apparently I hadn’t worn my heavy black and white checkered, fancier jacket since my mother’s funeral in March of 2020. 

It’s been so long now that I didn’t remember I even had that jacket anymore. I’d completely forgotten about it because I hadn’t had an excuse to wear a nice jacket like that in the past two years, other than the funeral. I’ve barely left the house over these last couple of years, much less needed a nice dress jacket. Who was I going to impress, the people I was going to see driving around the carpool lane as I picked up the kids from school, or maybe going to the gym? No, I hadn’t needed that jacket.

So being confronted with it just moments into the start of a regular day? It wrecked me. I wasn’t expecting a reminder of my mother’s passing. Those days after the funeral are a blur in my mind. We rushed to Ohio for the funeral and returned late at night a few days later. I probably came home and shoved that coat into the closet and never thought about it again. Never thought about needing to remove the mourner’s ribbon because I didn’t remember getting a ribbon. I don’t remember much about standing beside my mother’s grave, because it was freezing, and there were so few of us there in those early, terrifying days of Covid. We huddled under a tent, just a handful of us, my brother’s family over FaceTime from San Francisco. And that was it. Because it was less than two weeks into the lockdown and my mother passed away so unexpectedly, nothing happened in a traditional way. No shiva, no people back to the house, no deli trays. Not even a Zoom memorial; I thought surely we’d get to something when this all ended in a month or two. But it didn’t. 

So now, two years later, why would I have had this ribbon still attached to my coat? Almost nothing about that time even seems real to me, and yet here it was, a very stark reminder that it did indeed happen. That my mother is still gone, and that it still hurts.

Of course, I let Hannah take the coat to school. I removed the ribbon, threw out the tissues, and let her take it to be judged by the costume department. They agreed, and the coat was in the show. Hannah was great, and the coat was barely on stage for a moment. Nobody would’ve known that the last time someone wore that coat, it had been worn at a funeral. But I knew.

After the production run, Hannah brought the coat home and I hung it back up in the closet. I’m due to go back to work in person soon, and it will likely still be cold enough that it might make sense to wear that coat again. But I’m not sure that I can anymore. I’m not sure that after two years, and this vast experience that I have had to navigate without my mother, I can go back and put that coat on ever again. It’s still a nice coat, and I’m going to pass it on to somebody else who could use it well, without my memories attached to it. Maybe they can make better memories when they wear it. 

Hannah wearing the coat

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