In the days, weeks, and months after my mother passed away, I wore her clothes constantly. Usually, it was an oversize brown cardigan with large plastic buttons and even larger button holes. The shoulders are broad and the bottom hem has stretched so that it hangs longer in the front than back. From an outsider’s perspective, I probably look rather dowdy all wrapped in its brown fabric. Or maybe I look like what I am – a daughter wearing her mother’s clothes.
What can’t be seen is that I’m approximating a physical closeness with my mom that’s no longer possible. For a while, the sweater held her smell even as it held me – a mix of flowers and baby powder. I would bury my nose in the sleeve in hopes of catching a whiff. I’d wrap the fabric around me mimicking a hug. I’d wear the sweater on mornings I needed the soft armor to shield me from the nothingness of a love eternal in a mortal world.
I’ve kept five of her sweaters in all. My mom carried these cozy clothes from South Africa to America and then from New Jersey to Colorado. At every stop along the way, she would fold then neatly and place them a plastic sleeve to preserve the fabric. One of them, a dark blue wool cardigan, belonged to her mother, which means it’s been worn sporadically for at least 50 years. Was my mom toting her mother’s sweater around the world for the same reasons I wear hers today? How lovely. Perhaps I’ve stumbled upon an unspoken lineage of comfort found in a sweater. So, I wear that one now too. It feels good and, in this way, we’re all close.