Right after Shawn died, I boxed up a number of his shirts, certain that I’d do something meaningful with them. I never did. Even after I cleaned out his side of the closet and added even more clothes to the box, I felt paralyzed about what to do. Then, out of nowhere, an old friend from high school contacted me to volunteer to make a quilt out of his old shirts. I took her up on it, shipped her the clothes and forgot about it.
It took a few months, but early this fall, I got the final product. It literally took my breath away.
There were his shirts, all stitched together in one quilt. I remembered each of them – the Pentagon shirt he loved to wear at barbecues, the CrossFit shirt he bought when he went to Nashville for his 40th birthday, the shirt from the half-marathon he ran in DC. And then in the middle was one of his favorites: the shirt I got him for father’s day one year that read: “Daddy: the man, the myth, the legend.”
For the first few days we had the quilt, I’d take it out gently and run my hands over each of the shirts. It felt like something I had to be careful with, like the shirts were actually a part of Shawn, or something like that.
I know it might be silly, but Shawn loved his t-shirts. I mean, he was buried in a “f*ck cancer” t-shirt just to emphatically make a point that he went out fighting (he specifically requested it as he was dying.) So when I see his t-shirts, when I touch them, it’s like I can imagine that he’s right there. Or I can delude myself for a few seconds that he’s just gone out for a while, soon to return.
A few days after we got the quilt, I was hanging out with my friend Becky, talking about things that remain so hard for me. It was normal stuff: how to navigate the logistics of three children’s sporting events that fall at the same time and whether or not I should pay to get various parts replaced in my car. I felt exhausted. “Sometimes, it’s just a lot,” I said.
“Of course it is,” she said.
We both sat there in silence for a little while. “It’s just….” I started, and then my throat caught. I paused. “It’s just that I am starting to realize that it’s been almost two years. Sometimes Shawn feels so far away.” I could feel the tears forming.
She put her arm around me and we sat in silence. There was nothing that she could say, so we just existed together for a bit.
A few days later, I came downstairs on a Saturday morning and started making my coffee. It took a few minutes but eventually I realized that Tommy was hiding on the couch, with Shawn’s t-shirt quilt draped over his entire body. “Boo!” he said to me, and started laughing.
I went over and tickled him for a bit. “I want milk, mama,” he said.
“What do you say?” I asked.
“PLEASE!” he said, with a big smile. “Can I drink it on the couch? I’m so snuggly.”
“Sure baby,” I said. “Just be careful.”
I sat there and watched him drink his milk. I thought again about how far away Shawn was from me. From us.
And then I kissed his head and went to make waffles. Just like Shawn always did on a Saturday morning.
Tommy curled back up and peeked out at me from the blanket. I looked at him for a long while. Those t-shirts had once been on Shawn’s body as he played “pillow fight” with his youngest, something that Tommy actually remembers about his dad.
That morning, the same shirts were wrapped around my son as he waited for pancakes. He had no sense of how much his mom was thinking about that life from almost two years ago, but he smiled at me anyway.
So close. And so far away too.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.