Tonight, while Vivi and I were picking out her clothes for tomorrow, my hand brushed across this black dress hanging in her closet, a dress she’s never worn. Size 7, light hounds tooth with a smocked bodice, a sash, and a lace trimmed color. I got it for $8 at the fall consignment sale and it’s been hanging there in her closet through the winter with all the other lovely dresses that she never wears.
Vivi has never been to a funeral. But one day, she’ll need a black dress. We never know when, but the days come. I remember my own nephews at Richard’s memorial. Jake was about three. He came up to me in the vestibule at the church and when I knelt down to give him a hug, he reared back and grinned proudly then announced, “We got new SHIRTS!”
A friend from high school lost her daughter this weekend and even though I never met the dear girl and I haven’t seen her mama for 30 years, looking at that tiny black dress in my own daughter’s closet stopped my breath in my throat. It reminded me of a story of a mother, a daughter, a weary heart, and a black dress.
Many years ago, my stepmother’s niece was living her life the hard way. She had spent so many years lost to drugs and alcohol that it was difficult to have any hope that she would ever be free. That hole, that emptiness inside her–she tried to fill it with liquor or cocaine or whatever oblivion she could afford, but the hole only got deeper and darker. No matter how much love came her way, tough or patient or long-suffering, she seemed determined to throw her life away with both hands. Her addiction ate up her marriage and her relationship with her own children. Her job, her home, her family. She threw everything onto the fire.
Big Gay’s sister suffered through it all like mothers do. She tried to help her baby, she tried to warn her, she tried to be strong. But one day, after a nasty scene in her driveway, she had to step away and let her daughter live with the consequences. As the police drove away with her daughter, she found herself calmly pondering whether or not she had a black dress in her closet. She was that sure that she would need one. That is a tough moment for a mother–when she has to watch helplessly as her grown daughter hurtles towards her death.
There was a happier ending to that story. Big Gay’s niece got her life back. Her mother never needed a black dress.
It’s hard to write this next part because I don’t want to share the wrong thing at the wrong time. The young woman who died this weekend died in a single-car accident. Her mother got that horrifying message in the dark of the night that we all dread. She said, “I can’t say that I haven’t expected a call in the night but expecting it and getting it are entirely different things. Please, please, please let this hit home somewhere…”
So that’s why I’m writing about black dresses and mothers and daughters. It hit home with me. We can’t control our children once they are grown. We can’t keep them safe no matter that we would give anything to be able to do so. We can only hope that they will have enough time and good luck to get the chance to save themselves.
Rest in peace, M.W. And peace to her mother and her sister, in their black dresses. Grief is the price we pay for love.