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The Clothes Line

When a Loved One Dies, It's OK to Not Keep Their Clothes

Had he been sick?

That must have been so hard, right?

Then, inevitably: What did you end up doing with his clothes?

The line – the good old clothes line – is often delivered in conjunction with a furrowed brow, followed by a slew of Pinterest or “Well, here’s what I did” ideas. For example, people tell me that I could have cut his clothes apart, sewn them to a pillow, and hugged it whenever I felt down about my father’s death at the young age of 63. I could have turned his favorite shirt into a scarf or creatively framed pieces of his ties, sprawling a variety of zig-zags about the living room wall.

I could have, but I didn’t.

Instead, only a few of his favorite shirts and ties greet me every time I open my closet. They’re suspended above me, slightly out of reach, yet always within my sight. It’s been this way for the three years since his death, and it’s what feels right for me.

Am I a bad person for only keeping a few of his shirts? Or should I have kept his entire wardrobe and, even more, broken out a glue gun and done something spectacular with his slippers? Sometimes when the conversation of lost loved one surfaces, I feel a strong sense that those who don’t make Aunt Dot’s favorite bathrobe a part of the décor at a summer party or who – gasp! – opt to get rid of the clothes altogether are soulless, inconsiderate folks.

“I would have thought you’d have a blanket made with his clothes,” someone once told me. Others talk of their own friends or family members who did the unspeakable when death struck: immediately cleaned out the closet or never chose to turn boots into a craft project.

With my father about 10 years ago.  Author photo.

I was almost convinced that my less than DIY approach to my father’s clothes put me on such a level. Visions of his sneakers and suit jackets on thrift store racks nagged at me, but not for long. Why? It’s not about the clothes in the end anyway. I did what was appropriate for me, not what others or social media trends suggest. After all, death and one’s reaction to it is a very personal experience that is processed and handled differently by each individual. 

Windbreakers and gloves of the departed may look lovely in a frame or as a potholder, but it’s not for me. That doesn’t make it right or wrong. 

You see, tossing clothes isn’t synonymous with tossing away a loving bond. It’s about the memories, the smaller moments about my father that are woven together in my heart, neatly folded and tucked away in wonderful corners of my mind. 

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