On Saturday, my youngest daughter, my mom, and I shared laughter and joy in an unlikely space – a women’s fitting room.
We began with tea and decadent sweets at a European tea house and restaurant. In an elegant space we sipped our tea while whipped cream, chocolate, raspberries, strawberries, almond cream, and meringue mixed together in fruit tarts, chocolate mousse cups, and Viennese Torts. It was delightful in every way.
Satisfied and full of whipped cream we headed off to shop for dresses for my mom. Some may say that dress shopping after whipped cream is not a good idea. They would be wrong.
Earlier in the day my mom looked at my dad and said “I’m going to buy a dress.” She added, slightly defiantly “I might even buy two dresses!” He looked at her from his recliner, nodded, and without hesitating said “One for my funeral and one for your birthday.”
Just one day prior, my father had officially gone on hospice. Hospice – where you know the end is near, but you don’t know how near; when what you’ve done all your life to keep as healthy as possible changes. Instead, you weigh the options with the goal to be as comfortable as possible as you journey toward the end.
It doesn’t matter how much you have sat and talked with friends who have lost parents, when it happens to you, it’s all new. It is a new map with a final destination. The stops along the way are sacred and hard. They include both hard talks and soft moments; funeral plans and sipping tea.
So this weekend held the hard and the soft. The tea, whipped cream, and dress buying was the soft.
We marched in to the store with a purpose: Two dresses. One for a funeral. One for a birthday party. My daughter and I scooped up florals and plains, ones with little jackets and others with none; navy, teal, tan, and burgundy. We loudly found the fitting room and the fun began.
The old clothes came off and the new were tried on. Over and over we erupted into oohs and aahs followed by laughter.
“That’s beautiful Grandma!”
“Well, it would be if it zipped up.”
“I look like an old lady!” (My mother is not old. She is 89.)
All three of us looked in the mirror. Three generations stared back.
“You’re right! You look like Grandma K!” (Grandma K is my maternal grandmother.)
“And I look like you!” (That was me looking in the mirror.)
“And I look like Marilyn!” (That was my daughter looking in the mirror.)
We women know what it is to watch our bodies change. We have watched this all our lives. We see ourselves in mirrors and sigh, even as we know that mirrors can never tell the true story of our bodies; will never reveal true beauty. True beauty is revealed through the eyes of another.
Women’s fitting rooms can be horror shows or sacred spaces. When we are alone with our own thoughts and imperfections, it’s like watching a horror show unfold. The aging female body, with its bulges and bruises, scars and wrinkles does not do justice to the lives we have lived, the loves we have known, and the sorrows we have wept over. But when we are with those who love us and see us through the eyes of love, those horror shows become sacred spaces of laughter and love. Each bulge and scar is a badge of honor, for battles won – or lost, but at least fought.
The same is true as we walk through death and the dying process. It can be a horror show or a sacred space. We, along with the person dying, bear witness to bodies that betray their owners. We can no longer laugh about bulges and scars, because each breath is a labor. But when we walk this same journey and see it through the eyes of love, it becomes a sacred space, a sacred journey.
My mom now has a funeral dress. When she put it on my daughter and I gasped and said “You look like the queen!”
The truth is that I wish she would never have to wear it. I wish that life didn’t include death. I wish that all of this was easier. I wish our world wasn’t broken. I wish there was no Aleppo.
But my wishes will not make it so. Instead, I will choose the sacred space. I will walk this sacred journey with all the love I can. And while I do I will drink tea, eat whipped cream, and thank God for the joy of generations in a women’s fitting room.