Two years ago, I sat in our nursery and began the work of separating clothes into piles. I sorted each item by size and season. Holding up pants with the size “2T,” I marveled at the idea that he would one day be that big. They were pass-downs from a family whose three boys had outgrown them. The printed mock-turtlenecks went into drawers but never ended up getting much use. But everything else has now gone through the wash many times as they have adorned both boys. Out of all the items, my favorites are the ones hanging in the closet.
This morning, I balance our 11-month-old on my hip and open wide the closet doors to survey the overalls. I run my fingers through the many different pairs. Navy. Jean. Khacki. Red. Patterned. Plain. They have endured high chair debris, washing machine cycles, and changing table wrestling. A family’s history hangs on the hangers.
Love fills the closet. Its presence leads my mind’s eye to imagine the memories from their previous owners. The shopping trip that picked out the pair with the airplane or the bear or the fishing rod. The delight in an older brother’s face when a dump truck appears on his younger brother’s chest. The Christmas photos with the red overalls. The cold January day with the snowman fleece set. Baby balanced on her hip, mother beams with delight over her precious gifts.
Grief fills in the closet, too. Its presence is as palpable as the many snaps and straps. The family’s youngest life that wiggled, grew, and filled up these overalls breathed his last breath nearly five years ago after a sudden tragedy. The grief speaks of the cost of love that no one desires to pay – shattered hearts, stolen dreams, and aching emptiness.
On this gray morning, I pick out a pair and move to the changing table. I unlock the metal clasps. The overalls wiggle as he wiggles. I snap the snaps and buckle the buckles. I stand him up on the changing table to adjust them and then he is off. Crawling into the other room, he chases after his big brother to steal share his toys.
As I watch these lives before me, I remember their son whose life is no more. I listen for what his life whispers to me when I am still enough to listen– that life is temporary, love is urgent, and these moments must be appreciated as they come.
The overalls are true gift. They reorient my priorities and soften my heart. They beg me to say a quiet prayer for the mother. I lament alongside her the fragility of this life. I marvel at her strength to endure the greatest sadness this human life can bear.
One day, I will pack up all these clothes. I will pass them down along with the stories of the lives that filled them. I will tell them that this journey is worth the ashes.