JoAnn Williams: White Tee Shirts (memoir)
White Tee Shirts
The last few years of her life, we tried to avoid the old woman active wear, leisure suit fashion statement. Drab black is depressing and tends to make one look cronish. She was small and finding clothes for her was challenging. Clothes in the girl’s department at Target fit perfectly, but it is difficult finding suitable attire for a child sized octogenarian. Too cute tee shirts that said “Daddy’s money” didn’t seem appropriate. Ripped pink bejeweled jeans were a definite no. It was a delicate balance to maintain dignity and avoid the bizarre. We discovered if her caregivers were excited about her clothes, she got a bit of extra attention, bringing support to the theory that clothes make the woman.
Mama’s approaching death came as no surprise. We watched as she slipped away bit by bit every day. By now, the healthy meal ship had sailed and she ate whatever she wanted to maintain calorie intake. On this day, seconds after she had finished a small portion of the SpaghettiOs she loved for lunch, the nurse indicated it was time for us to say our good-byes. How could this be happening? One minute a person is eating lunch and a flash second later prepares to die? I felt like a character in a Quentin Tarantino movie.
This was too much to ask. What kind of person sends you to a big box store to buy clothes for your Mama when she is dying? Had I failed to read about this in the instructions the hospice social worker provides for the family?
The ghost of someone who looked like me walked through Target to the boy’s department; there were no plain white tee shirts in the girl’s section. Should I get crew neck or v-neck shirts, not that it would make a difference? Maybe if I just left and didn’t buy the tee shirts, she wouldn’t die. But, was that fair? Mama had said many times; she was ready to go. Was it proper to her to dress her in a tacky white tee shirt for occasion? Mama always wore big earrings; shouldn’t she be wearing those too?
I gathered the tee shirts in the appropriate size and began to count; maybe if I bought two dozen she would rally long enough for us to have one last visit. I loitered around the tee shirt section postponing the purchase for as long as possible. Could I actually follow through with this and not dissolve into a messy wreck at the checkout counter?
Then I heard Mama remark that it was a waste of time and money to buy clothes for an event that would be short lived. Leave it to her to add a bit of levity just when I needed it.
I delivered the dozen tee shirts that Mama would wear as she began her journey to a different place. There are all sorts of palliative care resources to guide one through the process of a parent’s death.
The problem is—–no one tells you about the white tee shirts.