4 Years After My Mom Died Of Cancer, I Put On Her Clothes To Remember Our Best Moments
I watched my mother fade away slowly as she was fighting bone cancer. I looked after her everyday as best I as could, but the feeling of helplessness was unbearable. Every time when she wanted to speak with me to get some kind of a closure, I avoided the conversation by saying “Everything’s going to be alright.” I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her, although I wanted to say so much and I had so many questions. After she was gone, I couldn’t come to terms with my loss. I was left not only with many unsolved issues, but a feeling that I could have done more, I could have done something or at least I could have said good bye.
One day, 4 years later, I decided to take out all of her clothes to remind myself of the good moments we had together. I found her blond hair on her green coat and that was a breaking point for me. I put it on and I felt calm for the first time in many years. I decided to try all the clothes and photograph myself wearing them.
I took all the pictures in my granny’s house because that’s the house where my mother, my sister and I grew up in. Since my granny passed away a few months earlier, the empty house was freezing in the middle of February.
Many feelings went trough my head while photographing myself in those clothes, but the predominant one was the closeness of my mother. I could feel her presence. After taking the last picture and after taking the last piece of clothing off, I was ready to let her go. With this project, I said my goodbyes.
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I decided to take out all of her clothes to remind myself the good moments we had together
“Home” clothes. I remember her sitting at the piano, focused, her hand tapping the rhythm, patiently listening to the rattle of her students, and I can still hear her gentle voice: “let’s repeat this fragment.” How was she able to listen to that I do not know till this day. My sister and I would leave the house after few minutes.
I put clothes on and I felt calm for the first time in many years
“For The Journey” clothes. The departure day. Crowd on the platform. I am clasping my mom’s and sister’s hands. Suddenly I am rising. It’s my mom passing me to my dad through the compartment’s window. I am followed by two suitcases. My mom and sister somehow join us. It was crowded for the next 14 hours, but 2 weeks of holidays at the seaside are a worthwhile prize. Mom has prepared sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes and tea in a “Wyborowa” vodka bottle. We had “Happy Minutes”, a children’s puzzle magazine in communist Poland. She loves the sea. She travels lost in her thoughts, I think she can already smell the sea and hear the waves and screeching seagulls. Her blue dress may be made from cheap material, but it doesn’t crease and dries in 2 minutes – perfect for such journeys.
Many feelings went trough my head, but the predominant one was the closeness of my mother
“Kindergarten” clothes. At the coalmine’s kindergarten she would prepare the little ones for many performances. She would teach them songs about beloved mothers, the blackened faces of miners or brave marching Polish soldiers. She knew a song for every occasion. She wore blouses with big geometric patterns for the children. They loved her, the happy plump lady with rosy cheeks, who accompanied their singing on the piano in front of their proud parents.
I could feel her presence
“Work” clothes. Small, badly furnished office in No 2 Primary School, that both I and my sister attended. I was written on the door “The Principal Of After School Activities”. Mom at her desk, writing a report regarding achievements of “Alkatras”(a club for youngsters with problems) and “Orlik” (club for children and teenagers) for a meeting with the town mayor. I’m waiting patiently in the corner, I want to walk home with her.
With this project I said my goodbyes
“Christmas” clothes. It’s Christmas Eve, mom bustling in the kitchen, taking golden carp out of oven carefully as not to stain herself with the hot butter. She is even wearing makeup, green, to match the outfit. She’s happy, she loves Christmas. After dinner, she is sitting at the piano and we are all singing Christmas carols.
“Holiday” clothes. It’s summer, apart from the intensively bright sun, the smell of freshly brewed coffee and mom’s voice wakes us up. I have a quick peek through the curtains, a line of washing must have been hung outside early in the morning, it looks completely dry. I cannot see anyone, but I know she’s there. I crane my neck and I am just able to make out blonde locks and cigarette smoke. The morning “gossip” with the neighbors is in full swing. Bare-footed and in pajamas my sister and I jump out on the balcony and join the discussion. We love summer. We have our mom to ourselves for a whole 2 months of holidays.
“Weekend” clothes. Sunny day, the whole family sits at my grandmother’s garden, sausages on the grill, twittering birds, laughter, conversation. In this dress, my mother would always be smiling, relaxed. She would were it only on sunny, free from work days.
“Wedding” clothes. I am 7 years old, the early nineties, cousin’s wedding, 150 guests. I don’t know most of them. I am stuffing my mouth with a cake while watching my parents dancing to a bad version of Krawczyk’s song. My mother loved to dance and she was good at it. They looked great together, understanding each other without words. She did not like this type of feasts. Chatting with relatives, whom you see only at weddings and funerals. What to talk to them about? It’s much better to dance and send smiles.
“Sunday Best” clothes. It’s Saint George’s day. The whole family goes to the church fair. First we check out stands full of plastic toys, then the shooting range where dad manages to win a bunch of garish and fake flowers for mom. Pink candy floss can’t be missed, my sister and I have to stamp our feet to get it, as it’s not healthy and bad for our teeth. But mom always gives in and on top of this, grandma gives us two “golden” rings with pink “gems”. Total bliss. At the end merry-go-round, we plead for one more go, just one more. And then we’re going back, bangers going off in the background, mom, dad and grandma are happy, chatty. My sister is playing a toy whistle, and me with a mandatory balloon tied to my wrist.
After taking the last picture and after taking the last piece of clothing off I was ready to let her go
“Winter” clothes. She would leave for work in darkness, we would all be still asleep. She would take a red bus to her work at the music school. We didn’t have a car. Waiting for the bus, bitter cold, the uncertainty whether it would come, shifting from foot to foot. On the way back she would go shopping. She would move slowly with heavy bags, being careful not to slip. Freezing cold, with a red nose and cheeks she would enter the house. Every night her soaked black boots would stand in a puddle of melted snow under a radiator in the kitchen.
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