My Son’s Last Outfit
The week before my son died, I began purging his too small clothes from his dresser, replacing summer shorts and t-shirts with long-sleeved pajamas and denim jeans.
I didn’t realize my son would be gone in less than a week.
The task of switching out his clothes came during the change of seasons, when I began trading flip flops for a warm pair of slippers.
I had no idea that in a few weeks, when I would be mourning my son’s death, I would pull out the same clothes just to smell his scent again.
In his dresser, I placed piles of hand-me-downs, long-sleeved shirts he would never wear, pants folded up and forgotten. The only thing he lacked were dress clothes, something I could buy later.
I had no idea that special occasion would be his funeral.
It was the funeral director who asked me what I wanted to bury my son in. I looked at him, still reeling from a new reality of picking out a tiny casket and a burial plot.
These aren’t the things parents ever want to decide.
His dresser contained a stranger’s clothes with an unfamiliar scent. Corduroy pants he had never worn. Pajama sets with Disney characters he didn’t recognize.
None of it satisfied the problem of the outfit he now needed.
His burial clothes.
The last outfit he would wear.
Somehow nothing seemed good enough.
I wanted nothing but the best for my son.
Which is how I ended up at one of the most expensive department stores in town buying an outfit off the rack that cost what I would pay for an entire season of kid’s clothes.
A crisp purple dress shirt, plaid tie, dark dress pants, and underneath his formal outfit, a Thomas the Train t-shirt. Silas loved Thomas, even if holding the little engine in his weak fingers was too hard for him most days. It made us smile to think of how much he would like the t-shirt, probably more than the dress clothes.
But picking out his special clothes was also an unpleasant reminder that every single holiday my son was alive, I never bought my son’s clothes at this store.
Now it was too late.
As I walked up to the counter to pay, the sales lady looked at my purchase, smiled and said,
“You must be buying this for a very special occasion.”
I paused, struck by her words.
“Yes,” I mumbled as she folded the clothing.
The question of what special occasion it was hung in the air unanswered.
She folded each piece like she was handling delicate china, placing it in the sack.
The special occasion is my son’s funeral, I thought.
The words felt sacred somehow, unbelievable even to me.
I imagined the look on her face when I told her the truth. Her expression crumbling into shock. The apologies pouring out.
How many parents came in to buy their child’s burial clothes? Probably none.
I avoided her gaze, grabbing my package as I beelined out of the store.
Nothing but the best for my son.
For weeks after his funeral, I went to the cemetery, expecting to see something, although I wasn’t sure what.
I imagined my little boy in his dress shirt and tie with his Thomas the Train shirt hidden underneath. I worried about the rain getting him wet, ruining his tie and soaking his shirt.
They say some women never stop mothering their children even once they are grown.
The same is true for the mothers who bury their children too.
I once read that scent is one of the most powerful memories we have of those we love. Weeks later, when I found his old clothes in a box, the rush of his scent was so intoxicating, I felt like a drug addict who had gotten high.
I tell my family, I hope heaven smells like a freshly washed baby.
But the truth is, I really do. We might forget what someone looks like, or how they sound, but we don’t forget their scent. Smelling the fragrance of his skin lifted the weight of this grief, if only for a moment.
In some ways, our senses bring this person closer than anything else. The sound of someone else’s laughter reminds us. The curl of his eyelashes on another baby. The faint smell of baby wash and laundry soap, which will forever etch his image in my mind.
We live by these fragments of memory and they remind us the person we love is never forgotten.