Funny Matters

Bitter-Sweet Charity

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(‘Ornamental Balls’ By Lisa Hull Photography)

This post is a follow-on from my last one – Confessions of a Dysfunctional Daughter.

So if you haven’t already read it. It’s probably a good idea to do that first. Here you go.

Right. Ready now? Great…

So. You’ll know it took me a long time to clear out Mum’s things. Over two years in fact.

And yes. I know I should have done it before.

But I was reluctant to give up my secret fix. 

You see. For the last two years, two months, & four days. Every time I’d visit my step-dad. I’d disappear off upstairs to the toilet.

And whilst I was up there. I’d sneak into the other room. Open up the wardrobe. And look at Mum’s things. Still hanging there.

Sometimes I’d just stroke them. Other times I’d say something to them.

But more often that not. I’d just bury my face into them. And smell her. Take big deep inhalations of Mum.

With just one whiff I could magic her up. Like a genie from a lamp. My instant access portal to her. 

My secret mum-fix.

Why wouldn’t I have wanted to hang on to that for as long as I could?

But enough was enough. I knew it was time to let go.

So there I was. About to open the wardrobe. All psyched up and ready to rock ’n’ roll.

As no-nonsense as I could muster. Bracing myself for the memories about to spill out.

Channelling the spirit of what I imagine would be the love-child of Jeremy Paxman and Anne Robinson.

I opened the wardrobe doors. And as quickly as I could. Took everything out.

Bundled it onto the bed. Ready to sift into piles.

All the while convincing myself out loud: “this is fine, this is fine. You can do this, you can do this.”

There were a few items that really my made me knees buckle. Things she wore a lot. That were so indefinably ‘her’.

Like tops she’s wearing in photos I have. The pink shirt she had on almost 8 years ago. When for the first time, she’d held her much longed-for first granddaughter.

(My niece – Jasmine)

Or tops which just had particular memories attached. Like the navy and white striped one she wore a lot in summer. The one we always joked about accessorising with a bunch of onions. And a baguette.

(Hmm, what was that about cheap national stereotypes?)

But. And I’m sorry for the anti-climax here. All in all. It was actually okay.

In most of her coat pockets. There were little scrunched-up balls of tissue paper.

I held them to my nose. And sniffed them. Some smelt faintly of Olbas Oil still.

Mum would’ve had a fit. Told me to stop being disgusting. Unhealthy.

Meh… I mean… How long do germs live for? Surely not two years, two months & four days…

Either way. I did it. It felt like another tenuous link to her. I wasn’t going to pass that up.

Mum’s clothes were kept in immaculate condition. She didn’t have much money. She took care of the things she had. Although, that’s probably just who she was – money or no money.

The few expensive items were things she’d bought for occasions. Special occasions. Like my brother’s wedding. Her dress-suit from Jacques Vert. All the matching items. Jacket. Hat. Scarf. Bag. And shoes. All individually wrapped up. Carefully. I could imagine her doing it.

I tried my best to power through everything as fast as possible.

But. I did allow myself a few moments.

I smelled pretty much everything one last time. Sniffed around all her collars with the urgency of a suspicious spouse. 

And I tried some things on. Held them around me. Looked at myself in the mirror in Mum’s clothes.

Tell me the truth. Is that weird?! 

It’s strange the things we do after someone dies, isn’t it? Sniffing old tissues. Dressing in their clothes.

I sorted everything into categories. Skirts. Tops. Trousers. Handbags.

It seemed the right thing to do. Organised. What Mum would’ve done.

Anything I thought I might wear, I took. Along with all her wonderful knitted cardigan creations.

Everything else I took to the charity shop. The one connected to the hospice. Where she’d been so well cared for. At the end.

The woman in the shop was obviously busy. Surrounded by an avalanche of stuff. Bags. Clothes. Books.

I could see there was a lot of sorting to be done. And I’m guessing – like most charity-shop workers – she was a volunteer.

I’d caught her in the middle of her lunch. Half way through a Domino’s pizza box.

I stood there. With pretty much all of my Mum’s worldly goods. Ready to deposit the last of her with this woman. 

The act of handing over all her clothes. To the hospice, of all places. It felt important to me somehow. Full of meaning. I wanted this exchange – this final goodbye – to have a sense of meaning too.

But. Here I was. Face to face with a thoroughly underwhelmed volunteer. Half way through her pizza lunch. With tomato on her chin. And greasy fingers.

I know it’s irrational. And not at all the woman’s fault. But it really upset me. Far more than the actual act of going through her wardrobe. Carefully folding up her clothes. And remembering the person once inside them.

I suddenly felt very protective of Mum’s stuff. Like a mother taking her child to nursery for the first time. 

I’m not quite sure what I was hoping for…

Certainly not a formal ceremony. A sentimental backing track of Boyzone. Or a live link-up with Kate Adie.

But I wanted something. Some form of acknowledgement, at least. That this was a big deal for me. 

Instead I got mild irritation for disturbing her lunch. For bringing a whole back-seat-of-a-car’s worth of stuff to fill up the already bursting-at-the-seams back room of the charity shop.

I wanted to cry to her to look after my lovely Mum’s clothes.

My lovely mum who’d died too early. Lived with a terminal diagnosis for 18 months.

But I didn’t. I just apologised for interrupting her lunch. Quietly explained that the bags had been categorised by item type.

Again. She seemed unimpressed.

I have to say again though – it wasn’t her fault. She didn’t know. I didn’t tell her. 

She can’t possibly go through her day treating everyone with kid gloves. Welcoming them in. Complimenting them on the contents of their bags. Picking out individual items. Holding them up and saying things like, ‘oh what a lovely piece’. All, just in case.

To her credit though. She did comment on the wedding outfit. Acknowledged the quality. The matching items. This pleased me, at least.

My Mum spent a lot of money she didn’t have on those clothes. It would’ve bothered her to know they wouldn’t be appreciated. Not that she’d want them to be marked as particularly expensive. But just that they were taken care of. Displayed nicely.

I wonder how I’d feel if I saw someone in her clothes.

I remember once. Years ago. We’d seen our old car. A Mini Metro San Moritz.

Mum had sold it several years before. And then one day. Out of the blue. At the traffic lights of a motorway junction somewhere. It’d had pulled up alongside us. The exact same car. The same reg plate. The same special edition, San Moritz.

Mum had driven my brother & I to school in that car every day.

There were probably still Curly Wurly wrappers stuck down the sides of the back seats. A few random dog hairs. 

We knew that car inside out.

But someone else was driving it. It was the same. But different. It had the outward signs of something we’d had a relationship with once. But now it was part of a different relationship.

I guess that’s what it’d be like. If I saw Mum’s clothes on someone else. 

One thing I’d hope though. For Mum’s sake. That they wouldn’t look better in her stuff than she did.

Nobody wants that, do they?

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2 Comments on “Bitter-Sweet Charity

  1. Melissa White
    September 19, 2014

    I like the photo of her in the blue and white stropped top… she has kind eyes! I have my Dad’s pipe in a plastic bag and whenever I need to I can open it and take a big sniff… it all comes flowing back in an instant. In a sniff. Hold the memories! Melissa xxx

    • Angela Wilson
      September 19, 2014

      Hey Melissa…that’s a lovely thing to say about the pic, thank you!! She did have very kind eyes…kind everything really!….How great to have your Dad’s pipe – bet the smell on that thing will never fade. Glad to hear you’re a fellow sniffer too!! sending you and your clan much love xxx

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