Clothes don’t make the man.

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)

Jack writes the blog.

They say a dog is man’s best friend, but for me, it’s all about a woman. I like to call her “Midge”. Our relationship began when she and the girls sprung me from a chain link cage at an animal shelter back in 2003. I was only 9 months old at the time, confused and sad to have been dropped off there in the first place. I would have gone with anyone who’d have taken me.

The girls named me after some character in a pirate movie, Captain Jack. As far as I can tell, my main function in this family is to allow everyone to love me. I willingly put up with group hugs that squeeze my middle and pats on the head that make me blink. I also tolerate kisses on the sides of my face and occasionally a full body bath, after which I’m hugged, patted and kissed even more than usual.

Most of my days are spent following Midge around. She likes having me nearby, and I like that, too. If she leaves a room, I usually follow. If she goes upstairs, I go, too. If she shuts the bathroom door, I wait just outside. I understand everything she says to me and do my best to look intelligent when she says it.

Midge and I have walked miles together over the years, and we try to get to the beach every day, even if it’s stormy. She tells me my black coat gets soft and shiny after rain or snow has soaked me. As we walk, I do a lot of sniffing and snoofing, but I always keep one eye on Midge, making sure we don’t get too far apart. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to her.

Recently there was a major shift in our home. I can’t tell you exactly what happened, but I know that Midge’s husband, Pidge, doesn’t come through the front door holding his briefcase and coffee mug anymore. I used to greet him with enthusiastic wags, and he’d give me a few reassuring pats. I never-but-never would jump on him. He had a suit on, for goodness sake.

A couple of weeks ago, Pidge drove in the driveway. At least I thought it was him. His car turned in, just like old times, and I ran out to greet him,  happy he was finally home! But when the door opened, it was Klaus. Pidge never appeared, which was a shame, because his absence has been a problem for Midge.

Sometimes she makes strange noises. She sniffs and sobs. When this happens, I move in close. I focus my brown eyes directly on her face and just wait like that till the sniffs and sobs end. Sometimes she’ll tell me what she’s crying about, but other times she just reaches down and strokes my back. She could do anything she wanted to me at those times, and I’d still stay right next to her.

Today I overheard a conversation I could hardly believe. Midge told Louisa and Birgitta that when they drive to Florida to help with the new baby, they’re going to take me along! I was so ecstatic, I almost wet the rug, but that kind of thing is frowned upon.

As for travel skills, I get A+, sleeping quietly in the car for hours at a time. I think the reason they’ll be taking me is strictly for Skylar. She’s a fast-moving mini-person who thinks I’m her plaything. I have to be on red alert when she’s around, but toddler-love is a small price to pay to be included on the road trip. The words “Jack, you have to stay” are the last words I ever want to hear.

For some reason Midge told the girls I’d have to stay behind when she goes to England in the spring to help with a couple of other new babies. I try not to think about that. I heard Midge’s sister Modge say she’d be willing to let me stay with my cousin-dog Sydney during that time, which would be a major treat, but I know she’ll have to OK that with Podge first.

Oh boy, there’s Midge with my leash. Gotta run.

A friend loves at all times.” (Proverbs 17:17a)

Promised Perks

Last night I took a box of Kleenex to bed with me. If I hadn’t, the pillow would have been soaked. This wave of grief wasn’t a tsunami, but it wasn’t a small ripple, either. It was simply a forceful longing to be with Nate. As I lay on my back holding a tissue at the side of each eye to catch the streams, I thought about how bad I was going to look in the morning, crying that hard before going to sleep. In reality, grieving isn’t pretty no matter when it comes.

If someone had sat down on the side of my bed last night and asked, “Why are you crying tonight, when this morning you were fine?” I wouldn’t have had an answer. All I knew then was that I missed Nate intensely. During the night a second wave came, and in the morning, a third. Then I cried while doing dishes, while talking to neighbors, while checking out at Walmart, while conversing with our girls.

Tonight, finally, my wavy day ended, because God said, “This far and no farther.” Whew.

Grieving for Nate looks a little different in each of us. I think some of our children are angry, others are depressed, one is trying to think away from it altogether. Yesterday I studied photographs taken over the two days of Nate’s wake and funeral. I looked carefully at my children where they appeared in the pictures, particularly if they were in the background. What I saw was heaviness, sorrow, pain.

I have moments, even hours of sadness, which is OK. But when I watch our children go through this same agony, my heart breaks. Mary always tells her children, “Remember, I’m the only one who would jump in front of a truck for you.” If I could get between my kids and the truck load of grief each is carrying, I would. But that might be like helping the chicken crack out of its egg, doing more harm than good.

Louisa, Birgitta and I were chatting tonight about the tough times in life and how we try hard to get through, around or over them a.s.a.p. Only a fool would say, “I’m really enjoying this misery and hope it never ends.”

But impatience seems to overwhelm endurance, and we become irritated when there’s no visible value in a situation. The girls and I looked back at several family stress points, hunting for the proverbial good-coming-from-bad. We successfully saw some of that, which builds hope into us that today’s difficulties will yield tomorrow’s good.

This morphed into a dialogue on how to see God’s activity in the world and, more importantly, how to hear from him personally. The answer to that one is complicated, and we talked about it for quite a while.

Jesus told his closest friends he understood it was difficult for them to believe he’d actually risen from the dead. When they finally got it, he said, “You have the advantage of standing here looking at me, listening to my voice, touching me. What about after I’m gone? It’ll be much harder for them. I’ve reserved special blessing for those who believe in me.”

The girls and I agreed he was talking about us.

So, if we’re willing to take God at his word, to believe he’ll lead us, answer our prayers and help us with decisions, he’s going to give us extra perks of some sort. Being singled out for God’s special treatment is a privileged place to be.

Tonight when I put my head on the pillow, instead of being grateful for a box of Kleenex, my gratitude will be for honest conversation with two hurting daughters. They’re looking for God in new ways as a result of their Papa’s death, which amounts to something good already coming from something bad. Tonight, the Lord gave us a peek at some of those special perks he promised.

”Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)