Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

Comments on breast cancer by proxy, written by a woman coping with the loss of her mother.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

The fabric of our lives

Make no mistake—the best clean clothes are warm clothes right out of the dryer. As is often the case, I left the most recent batch of laundry in the dryer for too long after they were done drying, and as is often the case, this morning I needed some clean pants. It’s still cold outside here, and our vent isn’t insulated or something, so anything left in the dryer gets mighty cold mighty quickly. Logically, I turned the dryer on only after I was showered for the day, so I half-dressed and padded downstairs in my sweater, black socks, and underpants (sexy!). They were warm and wrinkle-free—not that that’s ever stopped me from wearing anything.

I left for work clean, warm, and wearing cashmere. Perfect.

When I was sick or stressed or tired or cold, Mom would bring me clothes or towels or blankets right out of the dryer. The best was dragging my sorry, sleepy self to swim practice three hours before school started and finding that Mom had pulled my towels out of the dryer, folded them while hot, and stuffed them into my duffel bag. Even after a two hour practice, they were still warm. When vacant, the family cabin’s heat is set just high enough to avoid the pipes’ bursting, and the electric heat can take hours to get up to 70 degrees. Even then, the floors and all of the furniture are still 40-degrees-cold for several more hours. Mom and I would crack open the dryer and toss in our pajamas from our suitcases, robes from the closet, and afghans from the couch. When enough time had passed, we stripped down in front of the dryer and redressed in pajamas and robes and ran to the couch with the blankets. The only problem—other than standing naked in a 40 degree kitchen—was pajamas with metal snaps. I had more than my share of hot snap welts.

During Mom’s decline, we usually folded laundry in the family room. Dad or I would fill a basket from the dryer and emerge from the small, fluorescently lit laundry room into the wide family room with natural light, a fireplace, and/or helpers. On Mom’s last good night (where “good” means that she clearly understood us), Brooke and I were on watch, and I brought a basket of clean laundry up to offer pajamas to Brooke and to fold the rest. A sweater was so warm and inviting that I put it on as I folded, and since Brooke and I were getting in on the good stuff, I offered Mom that option as well. Dad’s blue plaid, flannel shirt was just the right size, so I pulled back the sheet and draped her torso with it, then pulled the covers back up and kissed her. She murmured softly and smiled as she was wearing her lover’s shirt. That may have been the last smile I saw.

At this point, Mom was wearing only briefs and a soft pajama top cut up the back. Bedsores were a concern, and eliminating pajamas reduced the likelihood of their occurrence. She truly felt the heat from that flannel shirt.

So often through all of this, I overthought things until they didn’t make sense and there was no right answer. This wasn’t one of those times. Mom deserved that shirt. Period. No question about it. It was warm and soft and clean. Right out of the dryer; it was just perfect. Wearing clean clothes out of the dryer is one of so many tiny everyday luxuries. It reminds me how simple and concrete the pleasures of life can be, and I gave that to her on one of the last days of her life.

I don’t mean to imply that I think I’m hot shit for doing that. None of this, Hey, I’m way cool and soooo perfect because I made a dying woman feel good. Look at me! I’m the new Jesus. But when she did it so many times for me, when it was so easy, when it was all that I could offer her, hell yeah. I did it. You should, too.

Maybe that’s the answer to world peace... Share the love: Share the dryer.


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