Sunday, January 24, 2021

A shirt tale

Nigel at my 60th Birthday Party in the shirt.
Sometimes a shirt’s just a shirt, except when it isn't, like when it’s also a symbol or reminder, or whatever. There’s no end to what a simple shirt can stir up in people. I know that well.

When I posted my birthday selfie this year (which I included in my annual birthday post, at the bottom), I said: “While I’ve always been partial to blue shirts, dark blue in particular… there was a particular reason I bought this one earlier this month, but that’s a story for another time.” This is that time.

Earlier this month, I mentioned buying some shirts at a mall called Te Awa. I saw some short-sleeved shirts and walked over to look at them. As I got closer, I noticed there were some dark blue ones (among other colours), and one looked like it had an interesting pattern. When I got there and saw what the pattern actually was (detail below), I had to buy the shirt.

The photo of Nigel above shows him at my 60th birthday party wearing what was his favourite shirt at the time. What’s less obvious from that photo is that the pattern in the fabric was actually tiny repeating pink flamingos, something many people—including me—didn’t notice until he pointed it out. That alone was reason for me to buy the shirt: It reminded me of Nigel’s shirt, and that made me think how awesome he looked in it, how much he liked it, and how happy he looked wearing it at my party.

Those warm, happy memories were somewhat counterbalanced by the last time he wore it: In his coffin. It was the shirt I chose to dress him in, and it was the one he was cremated in. That could’ve been expected to put me off: There are two mental images makes me cry every single time they pop into my head, and Nigel in that box is one of them. It wouldn’t be surprising if I avoided the shirt I bought for reminding me of that scene, but it didn’t and that, too, says something.

Detail of my shirt's pattern.
Sixteen months after Nigel died, I can now choose to focus on warm, happy memories, even when a horrible one is equally possible. That’s growth, that’s change, and that’s moving forward. When I saw that shirt, it reminded me of how much Nigel loved his shirt, and how much I loved him, and buying it and wearing it reminded me of all that, not the last time I saw him in it.

It was only logical, then, that I chose to wear that new shirt for the first time for my birthday dinner, and I stopped to take my annual selfie first. I made myself smile for the photo—which still isn’t easy for me, as that photo makes obvious, I think—because I thought it better reflected all that good stuff my new shirt made me feel. I didn’t even mind that another guy at the restaurant happened to be wearing one, too; us boys don’t usually care about such things, but I was wearing it better, so there’s that. (yes, I’m joking)

That shirt is also the first of my new ones that I washed then ironed so I could wear it again (something I did mainly because I wanted it unwrinkled when I took the detail photo, to be honest). I don’t know that I’ll love that shirt as much as Nigel loved his, but I do like mine, a lot, and for its own sake, too, and not just the warm, happy memories it brings me.

And that’s my tale of that shirt, why I bought it, why it was important to me, and—especially—what all that says about where I’m at right now. This journey I’m on is nowhere near over, not by a long shot. But at least I have some nice shirts to wear along the way.

Sometimes a shirt’s just a shirt, sure. But sometimes it can also be a reminder of warm and happy memories and feelings. That dark blue shirt with the little pink flamingos is exactly that for me.


Roger Owen Green said...

There's an entity called the DeathCafe. It is an international entity, started in England, I believe, in which people talk about how they view/feel about death, how it affects them, et al. It's NOT therapy.

Anyway, I was reminded about how you did Nigel's funeral at home, which is how it used to be done in the US but it is not now, for the most part. I didn't talk about it at the last gathering but it was on my mind.

Arthur Schenck said...

His final wake was at home, and the funeral was in a nearby community hall. I had two days of visitation at the funeral home to make it easier for his coworkers to visit, but, if I had it to do over again, I would've had him at home right up until the funeral.

Also, I always talk openly and honestly about death and how I handled Nigel's—both logistically and personally—because I think it's vital that we all talk about it more. Death will inevitably touch us all, one way or another, and I think we need to make it easier to talk about death so we can all give each other better support.