The Ugly Sweater

Mar 26, 2015 by

The Ugly Sweater

My mother, God rest her soul, was not the Queen of Fashion. I suppose, at the ripe old age of 92, she was more concerned with comfort than what her clothes looked like. But I have proof that she didn’t always feel that way. Check out this photo from Easter 1946 (my mom is on the left, and my grandmother on the right). My mom is wearing a fashionable suit and a pair of heels. Fast forward to 2015, and her favorite outfit had morphed into a Rita with mother, Easter 1946pair of nylon slacks, sneakers, white wool socks, and the ugliest sweater in the world. Made of fleece, it was a swirling eyesore of purple, green, yellow and blue. She had it for years, and she wore it everywhere. No matter what the occasion, no matter what the holiday, you could bet money that my mom would show up in her ugly sweater.

“But I don’t want to change,” she’d say, even when I (as politely and discreetly as I could) would point out that the sweater was dirty and needed to be washed. My mom was legally blind, and she couldn’t see the stains… or the point in changing her ugly sweater. “It’s cozy. I love it,” she’d tell me. And so, being the good daughter that I am, I would shut up and we would celebrate. Most every holiday picture from the past ten years has my mom smiling away, wearing her ugly sweater. And meanwhile, there was always a part of me wishing that I would never have to see her wearing that stupid sweater again.

God bless her. My mom died some days ago, on March 13th. No, we did not bury her in the ugly sweater. But we did donate it to a charity that provides clothing to people in need. Maybe someone will like it as much as my mom did.

Friends warned me that the death of a parent leaves a void in your life… that sometimes you feel like an orphan; that other times, like you’ve done something wrong. But those are only human emotions, right? Life goes on. You deal with it. Yet the strangest thing happened the other night. I was reading a book when suddenly, I had the feeling that my mom was right there with me… and she was very upset. “You gave away my sweater?” I heard her voice echo in my head. “Kathleen, what am I supposed to wear now?”

Ugly SweaterThe guilt reverberated through my heart. How could I have done it? I gave away her favorite sweater. Her precious, ugly sweater. What WOULD she wear? And what gave me the right to do such a thing?

Time seemed to stand still. It felt as if I was caught in an ‘in-between‘ place: not on earth, not in heaven. I turned to my husband with tears in my eyes. “Steve,” I said. “Did she really die?”

He stared at me for a long moment. Then, with the saddest look in his eyes, he nodded. “Yes, sweetheart. She’s really dead.”

I cried then. I cried for my mom, for the horrible pain she suffered from the hideous cancer that finally took her. And I cried for myself, for the little girl inside me mourning the loss of the one person in the world that had always loved me more than she loved herself. And part of me, YES, part of me, grieved because I would never again see my mom wearing her ugly sweater.

Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

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6 Comments

  1. Kathy, my mom wore an old orange sweater so many years it had holes in it. I learned later, that my aunt didn’t invite her to her home because of this. I feel shame on my aunt. I loved my mother in her sweater. I think your mom looked beautiful in hers, too.

    • Kathleen Irene Paterka

      Edie, God bless you, my mother would have loved your comment about her sweater! She also had a very weird winter stocking hat (pink/blue) that she wore constantly. The hat went into her casket. She was never without that hat (and no matter what the weatherman says, it’s still winter in Northern Michigan). I couldn’t bear to bury her without her hat.

  2. I’m so very sorry for your loss, Kathleen. The hardest part about living is losing the people we love. Allow yourself to grieve and hold onto those memories. XOXO.

    • Kathleen Irene Paterka

      Thank you, Meredith. I am learning that grieving is a process. Some days I’m okay, and then it hits me… and the feeling of loss is overwhelming. Yesterday morning the phone rang, and I thought to myself, “Now what does she want?” (my mom was ALWAYS calling me about something or other…). Then I suddenly realized: there will be no more phone calls. Deep sigh.

  3. Theresa Morgan

    Kathleen
    I had to laugh about the sweater as well as the hat…so true! Gotta love her and such memories we have of her. I have those moments an yes it is overwhelming beyond at times esp Mondays for me will never be the same! Still praying for strength to move on without my very best friend to just call to make sure I made it home safely. Never thought I’d miss such a little thing as you we’ll know. Thanks for the box and beads they r on our night table. My thoughts,love and prayers to all of you.

    • Kathleen Irene Paterka

      Theresa, I’m sure you and Billy miss her very much… just like Steve and I do. There is a hole in my heart that will never be filled. Yet I know she’s dancing with Mary Lee and my dad in heaven. That’s the thought that comforts me the most. P.S. Glad to hear the box and beads made it to you safely. xxoo ~ Kathleen