Before you read onward, I know what you’re thinking. Maybe you’ve already decided to stop reading, overwhelmed by the shock of my confession. Maybe you are curious because you had not considered where a loved one’s possessions would go, after death. Or maybe, you have your own stowaway of items, once cherished by your loved one. Or, maybe the reason you’re here is that this title is like a car crash on the side of the road: you just can’t help but stare.
I wouldn’t blame you if that last one was your reason. It would be enough for me, in a past life, to continue to read. But regardless of your purpose for getting this far, I hope you read on.
“That’s fucked up,” she said.
Maybe it is. But when my world came crashing down, no one sent me a book explaining the accepted grief guidelines and procedures. So after much contemplation I was required to take the liberty, or, you know, take the bull by the horns—as some would say—of making my own rules.
And I hope that after reading this, you decide to make your own rules, too.
That’s why I’m sharing this story; yet another page of my own, personal survival guide. A piece of my grief reference book, for you to use, if you choose.
Because I hope you find the courage to disregard others’ unwelcome, self-righteous opinions of how you should act in the face of your grief.
Instead, I hope you take comfort in looking inward, pausing to unearth the measures that will bring you solace—or at the minimum, ease your pain.
And by doing so, I hope you will one day reflect upon the time you trudged, hand-in-hand with grief, proud that you listened to and acted upon what felt right, to you, on your unique journey.
I hope you give this gift of knowing yourself, to your future-self.
So, here it goes: I wear my dead Sister’s clothes.
There I was. Staring. Frozen. Standing in front of her closet in my jeans and bra, a Holter Monitor haphazardly strung across my chest. There were no doors on her closet. Instead, her clothing—vibrant and patterned, a quintessential representation of her identity—remained on shelves and hangers, inescapably exposed. It had been nearly five months since she passed away, but these clothes had remained untouched.
They were exactly the way she left them.
My mind wandered, wondering if she had given thought to where these clothes may end up. But, of course she didn’t. It didn’t matter. This was trivial, as were so many other things I have attempted to assign meaning to.
She was going to die.
These articles of her existence were, I assume, the least of her worries.
This wasn’t the first time I found myself here, considering whether I should disturb this frozen-in-time reflection of her. The first was a few weeks ago, when I had forgotten to bring a sweater to my parent’s house. I stood here and had reached out, my fingers tracing the soft, folded edges of the sweaters on her shelf, eventually grasping her high school graduation hoodie. This hoodie was the physical reminder of how she heroically battled through her first psychotic episode and subsequent depression, to then graduate high school, and to begin to flourish once more.
I began to unfold it and a waft of Her filled the air.
It smelled like Rachel. Like how she used to smell.
A smell that would soon be lost from this world, forever.
A strand of her dyed-red hair danced alongside the edge of the sleeve.
A final remnant of her physical presence.
I burst into tears, mouth gaping with shock. Because there it was, another sucker-punch-to-the-gut realization that all was lost. That this was permanent. That she had no more need for this clothing, for this life, for this world. My mom rushed in, alarmed by my cries. In an instant her tears, too, flooded the uncomfortably stale air of Rachel’s room. We stood in our embrace—words and explanations unnecessary.
Because we were not yet ready.
And that was okay.
Because sometimes, it is not yet the time.
To face reality.
But today, here I was again, frozen. My feet bare, bracing themselves atop that same cold, laminate floor. The exact location as the first time.
The exact location I learned of how she died.
This time I was in need of a loose garment, one with enough room to comfortably wear my Holter Monitor. I reached out, my fingers tracing the seams of summer shirts worn through and jeans without wash still holding her shape, before my hands landed on one of her dresses.
It was black with tiny white flowers. Short and flow-y. Long-sleeved.
I twirled it’s soft, thin fabric between my fingers, and brushed it against my cheek, breathing her smell into my lungs. This was the one. The first piece I would wear from her closet.
I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror, my dark hair pulled up in a high ponytail. The dress draped against my bare skin. My round tortoise-shell glasses hid eyes that had seen too much, too soon.
I felt beautiful in this dress of hers.
And, it smelled like her.
It smelled like home.
Like times from the past that can no longer be relived nor retrieved.
Like times that were simple. That were void of sorrow.
Times of innocence.
I wore it for five days straight.
And in those five days the reality of my actions surfaced, as I began to encounter the twisted nature of wearing my dead sister’s clothes.
I encountered it when I walked into my appointment, and my counselor noted that this was the first time she had seen me in a non-athletic-clothing for the past five months. And I replied:
“I know you think this is a good sign, but it’s my Sister’s dress.”
I encountered it when I met up with a friend, and she noted that my dress was cute. And in my head, I responded like I would have a year ago, “oh it’s my Sister’s”. But, I knew this would render our conversation uncomfortable.
So instead I said resolved myself to hide my truth, “Thanks”.
I encountered it when I took a picture, and realized that I would not ever be able to share it publicly. Because maybe one of Rachel’s girlfriends would see it, and it would be another unwanted, unexpected, unbearable reminder to them that she was gone. Another reminder that they would need to find the strength to process. Pain that would be prompted by my own selfishness—by the person that these beautiful, grieving young ladies were supposed to be able to trust.
And I encountered it when I considered what my sister would think, if she saw me, sitting in our home wearing her dress:
“Why do you always take my clothes? You can’t just take things that don’t belong to you,” she would say.
But, I needed her clothes.
I needed to claim them before someone else determined their fate.
Because it gutted me to imagine us taking her wardrobe, scrunching it into a black garbage bag, and dropping it off at a donation centre. Unwanted. Outdated. Irrelevant. A wardrobe that would be lined up on a metal rack, perused and picked through by strangers as they scattered her into disrepair—as if they were entitled to reject pieces of her identity that did not suit them.
No, I would not let them rip her apart.
My Sister had already been in a black bag.
I would—and will always—do anything in my power to prevent it from happening again.
So, slowly, piece-by-piece, Rachel’s clothes are transitioning into my closet. I could not bear to bring them all at once—it seemed like it would be a rushed, haphazard, unceremonious, and hurtful act to rip them from where they lay, put them in a box, and then re-hang as “my own”.
Instead, I take them one at a time.
And each time, I breathe in her smell.
I slide into her dress, her sweater, her shirt.
And it feels like a final embrace from my Sister.
Because as much as I desperately strain my memory, I cannot remember our actual final embrace.
But for a moment, when I put on an article of her clothing,
I am gifted with one.
So here it goes again, my confession.
I hope you now read it with a different lens:
I wear my dead Sister’s clothes.
If you are experiencing distressing or suicidal thoughts, I urge you please, to close your eyes. To breathe. To just get through this moment, to just get through today. You are loved. You are important. Behind the storm clouds, the sun still shines, and you will too. Please call the BC Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-2433 or a friend, or a family member, or anyone.