When my dad died 18 years ago, I went through a phase where I wore some of his personal items. I guess it was part of the grieving process, a way of keeping him alive through the extension of my living body.
I wore his wedding ring. It was too big for my ring finger, so I had to wear it on my middle finger, stacked with another ring I wore on my middle finger. It wasn’t a good look.
I also wore his windbreaker. That wasn’t a good look either. At the time, I thought it was vintage. Instead, I was just wearing a cheap, unstylish nylon jacket my dad likely bought at Walmart. As evidence, here’s a picture of me in it. Everything about my outfit is unfortunate. I suppose I could blame the ‘90s. Only problem is that the picture was taken in 2005.
I have his hard hat, but I’ve never worn that. Well, once. To a work site because I needed a hard hat. But I’ve never worn it to the park or to No Frills. I’m pretty sure, anyway.
I also have his cufflinks which I wore to my wedding.
Here’s an old lighter which almost makes me wish I smoked again because imagine the looks I’d get when I whipped this out.
Here are some of his tie clips.
Eventually, I stopped wearing my dad’s things. It’s not that the items lost their significance. But I realized I was wearing them as a way of holding onto him. At some point in the grieving process, you come to understand that material things are just that. They’ll never replace the person. Nor should they.
Not that it’s wrong or unhealthy to have mementos. They can bring comfort. And they bring the dead back into your physical world. Things they touched. Wore. The items that were part of their living lives.
There’s only one thing left that I wear of my dad’s on a regular basis. It’s one of his old T-shirts.
I honestly don’t know why I took it in the first place. There’s nothing special or particularly nice about it. It’s polyblend, which could explain why it’s lasted all these years.
I usually wear the T-shirt to bed. But after 18 years of washings, it’s getting pretty threadbare. I’ve been considering throwing it away.
When I put on the T-shirt, I don’t feel my dad in any significant way. I’m just reminded of him, that this was once his T-shirt. And that he used to wear it, likely without giving it a second thought. He probably couldn’t imagine his son wearing it. Knowing my dad, he’d think it was a stupid thing to do. “Get rid of the damn thing, Brian,” I can hear him saying. “Go buy a new one.”
But I also think he’d understand that people hang onto things. A ring. A keychain. A hat. And that, while these things might not have been special to the person when they were alive, they become special to the people left behind. Bits of plastic and cloth can sometimes seem like gold. And if we throw the item away, we feel like we’re throwing out the person, too. Those precious last pieces.
I know that’s not really true. If I threw away his T-shirt, I wouldn’t be getting rid of my dad. It wouldn’t change how much I love him. He wouldn’t fade away. And while I know I won’t see him in physical form again, I also know that the physical things he once owned can’t act as substitutes for him. They don’t bring him back.
I know all of that.
But I still wear the T-shirt once a week and wash it and place it back in the pile with all my other T-shirts. And I know I’ll keep wearing it until I can’t wash it anymore. Until it becomes too thin and delicate. I tell myself I’ll throw it out then.
Or maybe not.
Maybe I’ll gently fold it and tuck it safely away in a drawer, along with a pair of cufflinks and a ring. Someplace safe. I won’t take it out very often, but I’ll know it’s there, waiting, whenever I feel the need to touch it.