His Shirt

I pull it close to my face, and my tears stream down my cheeks and onto the soft fabric. His smell is long gone.

Jennifer Estes

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Photo by the author — the last shirt he ever wore.

It has been one year and twenty-nine days since my sweet Tom died. Yesterday felt like I was transported back to a year ago; I cried all day. Tears mixed with sobs, talking to him all day, begging him to come and get me.

Please Tom, please come and get me. I want to go home.

The moments of feeling like I might be okay are getting longer and longer as time passes. Still, all it takes is one look at his shirt, one memory brought to the forefront, a song, a phrase, a commercial, it could be anything, and I am back to square one in the mourning process.

I had taken him to the hospital, and they kept him. He didn’t look good, he didn’t sound good, and the doctors were so much more pressing about his medical living will.

I came home exhausted, after months of him being so sick, months of being alone, just him, me, and our cat Luna, months of working over-time every chance I got due to all the time off requested to take him to appointments, and then years of watching him fight. It had all taken such a heavy toll on me. I was on the verge of a complete mental breakdown.

Somehow I had the clarity to grab that shirt from the dirty clothes hamper. I had just done laundry, so it was the only thing there. I hung it in the closet, away from all the other clothes, to keep the smell of him.

It remained there, in our Phoenix house, as I packed everything I could fit into my car. Luna and I drove back to Utah, following the ambulance which carried that sweet man to fulfill his dying wish of being home.

Being home was short-lived; Tom passed away on day three. I stayed another eleven days before returning to Phoenix, Luna in tow. We arrived early evening. I found his shirt hanging where I had left it. I grabbed it and rocked myself to a half-sleep. Crying, sobbing, unable to breathe, the hole in my chest so gaping and large, empty, and physically painful. His smell brought a small measure of comfort. Just enough to allow for a sort of sleep.

Insomnia has been one of my struggles for a while, but losing Tom brought it to a new level. In…

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Jennifer Estes

I am a widow, a mortician, a mom, and grandma. I write about grief, caregiving, substance use disorder, and the death care industry.