Some of my widow warriors were unable to dismantle their husband’s closet for a year, telling me they found comfort in smelling his jackets or wearing his shirts. Others said it was torture having his clothes in their usual places, a daily visual of him that couldn’t be completed by his presence. I fall somewhere between them.
When I sent a group email to our children asking if they’d like any of their father’s clothes, it was satisfying when some asked for a necktie or a t-shirt. His black socks were popular, and his flannel shirts went. I kept his bath robe. But most of Nate’s wardrobe consisted of white dress shirts and dark suits in sizes too big for his four lean sons.
Nate wasn’t a clothes horse by any means and didn’t think twice about wearing a shirt with ink stains on the pocket. Most of his ties were, as he put it, “christened” with a splotch of salad dressing, and because he carried quarters in his suit pockets (for commuter train parking lots), many had holes.
“I use my clothes till they’re used up,” he’d say.
Looking through his closet and drawers, I didn’t see much of value, but to someone with nothing, a worn shirt is better than none. I surveyed our hall closet and thought of people on Chicago streets who could use Nate’s four warm coats, a motivation to get everything bagged up and given away. Its winter in the Midwest, and Nate’s coats weren’t helping a soul.
As I began taking things off the hangers and lifting clothes from the drawers, I felt funny “taking” them. My mind told me, “They’re not yours. Put them back.”
I remember the same feeling when my mom invited Mary and I to “take whatever you want” from our Aunt Agnes’ drawers after she died. This meticulous, private, elderly aunt had never in her lifetime allowed us to look through her drawers. It was almost impossible to take something in good conscience.
Of course I’d handled Nate’s clothes hundreds of times, washing, folding and putting away, again and again. Taking them out, however, was new. As I stood at the closet fingering his suit jackets, it swept over me how faithful he’d been to go to work each day. I didn’t know until after he’d died, what intense pain he was feeling as he dressed each morning.
Once in a while he’d tell me about another lawyer he watched in court who dressed in custom-made three thousand dollar suits and silk ties. “Clothes don’t make the man,” I’d say. I suppose Nate would have felt self-assured in a custom suit, but I often told him he looked handsome, like “a butter and egg man,” as he left the house each morning.
When I knelt to pack up Nate’s shoes, there were his brand new cowboy boots. He wore cowboy boots instead of motorcycle boots when he and the boys would ride their motorcycles together. After foot surgery for bunions and bone spurs, his old boots no longer fit. I bought him new ones, but the extra wide width he needed came with too much length. Putting the boots in a bag, I stopped to pray God would connect them with a man who’d always wished for a pair just like that.
Thinking of how Nate’s clothes might bless others was a great motivator. At the end of the packing process, it dawned on me like the proverbial bright idea (ding!) that there was now extra closet space. Drawers, too, were available. And suddenly the task seemed like Nate’s gift to me rather than my invasion of his privacy.
He doesn’t need his ink-stained, holes-in-the-pockets clothes anymore. I’m not sure what he’s wearing now, but anything made in heaven has to be better than what he wore on earth, trumping even a three thousand dollar suit.
“The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you’.” (Zechariah 3:4)