The Cardigan

WIN_20141120_133852 I was with my mother when she bought the cardigan, about a year before she died. We went on a ‘girls shopping trip’ – my mother, my daughter and I, to the Trafford Centre. I had planned it carefully, to take account of her limited mobility combined with her refusal to acknowledge her physical limitations.  So we parked directly outside one of the main entrances in a disabled parking place, using her newly (and begrudgingly) acquired blue badge and only took in one shop.

The cardigan caught my mother’s eye almost immediately. Baby soft cashmere, with coloured stripes over a gentle cream background. Her fingers stroked it, feeling its softness, but she moved on after checking the price and then shortly afterwards said that she would have to sit down. My daughter and I dashed around the shop whilst she sat, fulfilling our ostensible purpose of finding a swimming costume that my mother could buy for my daughter.

When we arrived back at the bench, she glanced quickly back in the direction of the cardigan and commented casually ‘I could just try it on here I suppose?’. It was duly fetched and she tried it on at her seat. We looked around for a mirror and saw one on the wall about ten metres away. She stood up slowly, finding her balance and set off on the short walk to the mirror with her characteristic lurching start as she launched herself on her mission.

As she glanced in the mirror, I saw her appraise herself from the front and then, very briefly, turned to at a side angle, whereupon she grimaced at her bent and broken back and commented that she couldn’t get used to seeing herself look that way.

I was despatched to pay for the cardigan for her and my mother and daughter sat together back on the bench whilst I dashed through the shopping centre to buy us all ice creams. My mother always prided herself on being an ice cream connoisseur and I can remember very many occasions when ice creams purchased at various venues around the country fell below her exacting standards. But this day, she gave a nod of satisfaction and pronounced ‘now that is a good ice cream’ and I felt proud and happy at the resounding success of the trip.

The cardigan remained a big hit with my mother, quickly becoming a wardrobe staple. Light enough to be worn the rest of that summer, warm enough to be of use during the Scottish winter, and gentle on increasingly tormented bones and skin.

And a year on, it was one of the few items of clothing which came to the hospice with her. As she fell asleep whilst we watched the Wimbledon final together on her television in her room during my first visit, I laid it over her. When we took her out in the wheelchair into the hospice garden on my last visit, it was light and soft, tucked around her shoulders.

So after she had gone and my father invited me and my sisters to ‘claim’ any items of clothing which held significance for us, I asked for the striped cashmere cardigan. My father brought it to my house in a plastic bag, tied at the handles. As I opened it, the sweet, characteristic smell of the hospice seeped out and overwhelmed me and I quickly resealed the bag, unable to open it again for a few weeks. When I did, the same thing happened. I decided I had two options: keep it in the bag forever, or wash it and wear it.

I decided on the latter. So far, I have only put it on once or twice, in the house.   This year, I found myself back at the same shopping centre on Remembrance Sunday, delivering my youngest child to a birthday party. After dropping him off, I took my place amongst the crowds gathering to watch the television pictures transmitted from the Cenotaph in London on the big screen. As the poignant strains of Elgar filled the hall, followed by the cannon and then the silence, I was undone, suddenly and unexpectedly, by grief. I was not crying for the soldiers or the families, or for my ancestors affected by wars. I was crying for my mother, a war baby, and I was crying for myself and the renewed shock of realising what bereavement feels like. It’s the little things, like the cardigan. And it’s the big things, like knowing you will never see them again.

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23 Comments

Filed under dying, parenting

23 responses to “The Cardigan

  1. Rajiv

    Damn. I’ve got something in my eye. (Cyber hugs Louise. That was terrific. I am a fan!)

  2. Oh my. What a beautiful post. I feel really tearful. Take care x

  3. Oh my goodness, what a beautiful post. It must be hard to lose someone like that, I hope that the cardigan will bring back happy memories as well as sad ones.

  4. sarahmo3w

    Such a moving and beautiful post. I’m pleased to say I’m not in this position yet, but really felt your pain.

  5. So sad, but a lovely tribute, and memory of your mum. x

  6. Izzie Anderton

    Beautiful post lovely and such a great tribute to your mum x

  7. Your writing is so vivid, I felt I could almost smell the scent of the cardigan as you opened the bag. Such a beautiful piece about three generations of women, thank you.

  8. A wonderful post, and I know just what you mean, losing my mum a year ago. I claimed several of her clothes, a bag and even my brother wanted one of her turbans (because he preferred her wearing that than her wig). Funny how you think you move on but how certain things can set you off with the memories.

    Hope you continue to have nice memories of that trip out.

  9. What a beautiful post. I am sitting here crying my eyes out. This is beautifully written and such a wonderful tribute to your Mum. What fabulous memories. Thank you for linking to #PoCoLo 🙂 x

  10. What a beautifully written post. You made me get all teary. A great and wonderful tribute to your lovely Mom. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me. Happy Holidays #sharewithme

  11. This is a beautiful tribute to your mum. Some great memories there…
    I lost my mum three years ago and I know how powerful the sight of a much loved piece of clothing can be. In my case, her scarf. At first I didn’t want to wear it for fear of losing ‘her smell’. Now the smell has faded but I wear it all the time and feel that she’s close to me, somehow.
    I hope you continue to gain comfort from it. She sounds like a lovely lady. X

  12. Profoundly moving Louise. Lost for words. xxxxxxx

  13. PhilippaW84

    So, so moving that I had to read this again – I am so glad you have the cardigan and memory to treasure x

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