The delicately beaded mother-of-the-bride dress, worn especially for me, stays.

The two others, still dangling tags and dashed hopes, stay as well. The hand-sewn rainbow sundress, thin and frayed from years on the beach, and the red and green zippered housecoat worn every Christmas morning, must remain too–though none of these will ever be worn again.

My mother’s shoes, sharing space with thousands of dollars worth of life-sustaining medical supplies, will be passed along with little nostalgia.

I will keep the once-purple college sweatshirt, now paint-splattered and faded to an almost gray. I will save an embroidered suede bag that looks carefree, even though that’s not a word I would have ever used to describe her.

Most everything else I pull from the racks and stack atop an old sheet spread across her bedroom floor. I gather the corners and knot them into a bundle as I did every year as a nomad college student. I repeat this for the skirts, the blouses, the sweaters, the dresses, the coats. My father retrieves bundle after bundle, beating a path from bedroom to garage until his truckbed is full.

The volume is staggering. I can tell that my mother stopped cleaning out her closet when she got sick, all those 30 years ago. Perhaps holding onto everything offered some normalcy as her world shifted so dramatically. If these items gave comfort then, they give only stinging sadness today.

I have done this final clean-out before. Years ago, on a tearful autumn weekend, I gave away every onesie and every burp cloth. I tossed all but one pair of tiny leather booties. I kept the homecoming outfit, the mini college jersey, the First Birthday attire. I shipped off every last bottle, blanket and board book with resignation.

There were to be no more babies. But then, a year and a half later, there was.

And from the moment his heart beat across the flickering screen, he was stunning and redemptive and completed our family in a way I had not dared to imagine.

But that memory is hardly like today. Today I sit in my mother’s mostly empty closet and realize that there will be no new memories, no surprises, no redemption. I realize that the only possible life coming from this closure will be my own rebirth as a daughter and mother.

I inhale deeply and exhale with slow and measured intention. This is women’s work, I know.

Even in a haze of grief, we mothers and daughters can steady ourselves. We approach these watershed tasks knowing full well that something, anything, can bring us to our knees in pain. We may ache longingly or regretfully. We may feel cheated and furious. We may feel utterly alone in the heaviness of the moment.

But then, we gather ourselves up. We quiet our minds and whisper gently to our hearts. We continue with the sifting, the deciding, the separating. Because despite the ache, we trust no one else to do this sorting for us.

*     *     *


  1. Lovely and heartbreaking.

    I wasn’t there for my the sorting of my grandmother’s closet, and I still regret it. My dad manage to save a pashmina that arrived smelling of my grandmother’s perfume and cigarettes. And every time I wear it, I think of her.

    And now I’m crying.

  2. Oh, girlie. My mom still lives, but we’ve already done much of this work upon moving her from her house. Never easy. In fact, we still have to do a garage sale for some of the bigger stuff. While I am a pretty good purger in such situations, I know that day will be hard. I’ll think of you and keep breathing.

  3. Oh the closet….thank you for putting this into words and sharing it with us. Lovely and vividly written. You took me back 10 years….

  4. You do have a gift.
    One of the things that left was a yellow sweater that I bought for her when we were dating. She wore if often but I realized early on it was something that wasn’t here.
    It was probably ten years later before I ventured into clothes land again. This time it was a casual brown suede jacket that she wore until the leather disappeared around the elbows…..and then a little longer. As MS took it’s toll it became very difficult to put it on her although it remained at first hanger position in the closet…..until one day when she offered a treasured jacket to someone special.

  5. This is so beautifully written. It is one of the best blog entries I’ve read, on any blog, anywhere. I know that it’s in part because you are such a gifted writer and in part because it comes from your heart. And I admire you for writing it as I know it couldn’t have been easy. But you’ve put into words such a profound experience and you’ve captured it so essentially. When Johnny’s mom died several years ago, I cleaned out her closet and it was a weekend so packed with emotion that I don’t know if I’d have the courage to try to put it on paper.
    I just love this. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

  6. I share with you my tears as I read this because nothing I can say could do justice to what my heart feels. Luv U the most!

  7. beautifully done, and perfect for a Mother’s Day reflection. The women’s work we do, willingly, even when it hurts…because no one else can. I hope your day is full of happy memories and lovely moments with your own children.

  8. You have such a beautiful way with words. I know this was not easy to write but it touches on so many emotions. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Jesus. How did I miss this? I am so, so sorry. Heartbreaking. You write with such grace about it, but I know you must be overwhelmed. ((you)) Let me know if there’s anything you need.

  10. I found myself holding my breath while reading this post. SO real and so beautiful. I also loved the picture.

  11. I just posted about human connectivity and then happened to click over to this post. I feel like I’ve lived your experience through your words and, somehow, feel a bit more prepared for when my sorting days come. thank you.

  12. Oh Liz – I just read this one. It brought back so many memories. I would not let anyone touch my mom’s closet for a few years. I used to go in there and just breathe in her smell.
    My aunt finally cleaned it out this year when my dad decided to sell the house. I had taken what I wanted. Even though those things sit in my closet, I still hold them to my face and I can feel and smell her again.

    I’m so sorry. I hope Mother’s Day wasn’t too hard on you. People always used to ask me about Mother’s Day and I would just answer that every day is hard without a mom.
    Take care.

  13. What a wonderful post! You captured a moment in time that is probably universal. Your words spoke to my heart and that is truly a gift. Thank you.

  14. Liz, the only way to immortality (that we know of) is to be remembered in the hearts of others. You’ve just shared your mom with all of us – forever.

  15. oh my heart. This experience of sorting a mother’s closet is still so tender for me. I almost couldn’t read it, our stories so similar. I also kept the mother of the bride dress we picked out together, the high school sweatshirt I passed to her I brought back home with me this time forever… Keeping some dresses hanging there alone not knowing what might become the funeral attire we dress her in. Thank you for sharing, it helps me not to feel alone in this huge loss.

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