Well, we did it.
Susan and I went through all of Daddy's clothes this week, packed them up and took them to Hope Station.
I've attempted to do it several times since he died March 13. I'd set aside some time to go to the house, but then I couldn't bring myself to actually start the process. But Susan was in town this week, and we both were eager to get the job done. It had to be done, and we needed to do it. It's all part of the grieving process, right?
Daddy's old clothes were divided between three closets. The ones he wore in the last year or so of his life were stacked neatly on the twin bed in Susan's old room.
The front closet held mostly trousers and windbreakers. Lots of trousers and lots of windbreakers. Some of the pants still had tags on them. Others bore stains and signs of wear from days working in the garden, cutting grass, cleaning out the gutters, painting the house.
Daddy had lots of nylon jackets: nylon windbreakers in a variety of colors from yellow to pale blue, dark brown and navy. By the time we found all of them in the various colors, we had counted more than 20!
The closet in his bedroom held the shirts Daddy wore to work and for dress occasions. A few new ones were still in their original package on the closet shelf. Some of my favorite shirts were in this closet. I always loved it when Daddy wore his cheerful shirts: colorful plaids he bought at Rose's. (Why I remember this, I do not know.) It was at this point that Susan and I began holding out clothes. There were several shirts we could not part with.
We didn't keep any of the suits Daddy wore to church, to piano recitals, concerts, graduations and funerals. But I did think of the many times I saw him wear one light blue suit in particular, and how handsome he looked in it. We also gave away the dark brown corduroy jacket he wore so often in the 1970s. Susan remembered he was still wearing heavy, plastic eyeglasses at the time he bought that suit.
As we worked, we saved a few things for Daddy's brother Fred. A jacket, some ties, some baseball caps, a wool American Legion jacket that Daddy never wore to my knowledge. We also set aside a new jacket for a special neighbor.
My son, husband and brother-in-law had already chosen some of Daddy's ties. Robert wore his to his senior banquet; I was so proud.
We didn't get too sentimental or upset until we got to Susan's old bed. It was what I had been dreading. There, in front of us, were the pajamas, the flannel shirts, the sweat pants that Daddy wore these last few years. The sad memories. I didn't cry until I picked up one of the faded light gray cotton jackets Daddy wore around the house so often. I saw the stain on the sleeve where one of the many skin tears on Daddy's elbow had leaked blood. I tried so many times to get that stain out. I hugged the jacket to my chest and cried.
"I thought Daddy was crazy the first time he put this jacket on backwards," I told Susan.
Daddy would sometimes put the jacket on so that the zippered part would be towards the back. He did it on purpose. He said it kept him warmer that way. During Daddy's illness, we used those three remaining gray jackets to keep him warm. Sometimes he preferred that over a blanket. We'd just place the jacket stretched out over his chest when he complained of being cold, which was often. And we NEVER left the house without one of those jackets in case Daddy got cold in the car or the doctor's office or on a visit to my aunt and uncle's house.
We tossed the blood-stained jacket. I put one of the others in a small plastic storage bin with my name on it, joining a pretty plaid shirt I had chosen to save earlier. Susan did the same.
As I sorted through the flannel shirts, I pictured him in each one. He never would have considered wearing flannel before his illness. But in the last few years of his life, he loved the extra warmth the shirts gave him.
Picking up the sweatpants, I thought back to the Saturday morning Reggie and I bought them. The caregivers had suggested them. They'd be easier to work with than the too-big pants and belt we were using. Daddy lost so much weight in the last year of his life. I kept buying smaller size trousers, but they'd quickly get droopy, too. The sweatpants with an elastic waist were the perfect solution.
The plaid pajamas reminded me of the awful days when Daddy was too sick to get out of bed, so we kept his pajamas on him.
Mixed in with everything else were some of his handkerchiefs. Daddy always carried a handkerchief. Mama taught me how to iron by having me get the wrinkles out of Daddy's handkerchiefs when I was a child. When he was so sick, we always tried to keep his shirt pocket filled with tissues or a handkerchief because he was always needing one or the other.
As we neared the end of our task, I picked up ball cap after ball cap. You almost never saw Daddy without a cap on. He even wore them in the house when his head got cold, which was often these last years. His trademark cap was burgundy with Heritage Bank printed in white. We buried him with one of those caps tucked inside the casket.
As I sorted through those caps, deciding which one I wanted to put in my keepsake box, I pulled one up to my nose, then another, and another. I desperately needed to "smell" my daddy. In one, I immediately got a whiff of the scent I associate with Daddy. It was reassuring, comforting somehow. I called Susan back to the room; I wanted her to smell it, too. But it was already gone. We cried some more. I think this was the time we both broke down and sobbed in each other's arms.
But it was done.
We loaded the five or six garbage bags of clothes and the stack of suits into our cars and drove to Hope Station. When we got there, Susan walked to my car. She had gotten sentimental again on the drove over, she said, adding we needed to find a few more of those pretty plaid shirts to keep. I was glad to oblige. I didn't want it to end. We pulled two more shirts from one of the bags before turning over our beloved Daddy's clothes to men who, we hope, will put them to good use.
It's strange how your clothes can tell your life's story. In Daddy's closets we found evidence of his working life (a lab coat and green overalls); his church life with many suits and ties; his family life reflected in casual clothes including a pair of shorts he only wore when we went on vacation or maybe to cut grass; well-worn gardening trousers and long-sleeve shirts for pulling corn; and shirts with American Legion or Wilson County Fair logos. There was even a World's Best Grandpa ball cap among the mix.
I'm glad Susan was able to help me clean out Daddy's closets. It was good having someone with me to share the memories, someone to encourage me to keep going, someone to hold me when I cried.