Shopping for Funeral Clothes

David’s palliative care doctor had just predicted that his funeral would be in 3 to 6 months. That brought us to attention. We had not heard 3 before. So, David thought about everything that we still needed to do: obit written, tombstone purchased, funeral reception planned, liturgy chosen, pallbearers selected. I insisted that we had everything planned, “you can relax.” I emphasized, “there is nothing left to do.” Then, he asked, “what about your funeral clothes?”

It was clear that we had to shop for my funeral clothes. No sparring about that. David and I both loved clothes, and we particularly liked shopping for clothes for me. Every year, on my birthday, January 12, we hit all the clothing stores during the January sales. One year, we both went on vacation and shopped for 10 days straight. I really needed funeral clothes.

I searched for the best women’s clothing store in Milwaukee—Aversa. They were having a trunk show. I had never been to a trunk show, but I called the owner of the store, asking for a large dressing room. I told her that my terminally ill husband, and his large wheelchair, were helping me shop for funeral clothes. She stumbled a bit, but reserved about one fourth of the store.

On July 12, David, myself, and a friend got into her car and took off, parking at the back door. David walked the very short distance, sat comfortably in a large chair, surrounded by designer mineral water, and took charge. No one doubted that. The sales clerk was not even second in command. The New York Lafayette 148 designer ran back and forth bringing endless rolls of fabric for David’s approval. I stood stoically, while the sales clerk draped fabric around me. Our friend crouched on the floor behind me, using stick pins to fashion the fabrics, a skirt, slacks, or whatever. At one point, I was enveloped by four layers. This was July, and I was hot. Fortunately, I had thought to wear a very slim silk tank top.

David critiqued: “No, that’s the wrong color for her,” “No, she will be allergic to that,” “I don’t the different texture in the jacket.” After the designer had taken my measurements for two complete outfits, and David had started to work on the third, I asked him, “where do you think I’m going to wear all those clothes?” A fundraiser friend piped up, “I will make sure she wears all those clothes.” David firmly and emphatically responded, “I want her to have enough clothes for the rest of her life.”

At this point, the designer needed to know what size slacks I wore. I went into the dressing room to try on different sizes. I have extremely good hearing, and while I was in the dressing room, I heard David say in a rather loud stage whisper to the ever growing audience, “these are for my funeral. But don’t say anything to Nancy or she will cry.” When I came out of the dressing room, everyone was looking at me, questioningly.

So, I asked David, “What do you want me to wear to the funeral?” He looked confused and said, “why should I decide?” I paused a moment and then said, “it’s your funeral.” The entire store burst out laughing. I’m sure the designer dined out on this for a long time. I suspect all of New York heard the story.

The beauty of the shopping trip, besides the clothes, was that David and I remembered what marvelously good times we had had clothes shopping for forty-seven years. We were excited and happy. But when we returned to the apartment, I realized, “this will never happen again.” Death did not go away. David was too weak to go to the final fitting. But, he gave clear directions on which of the two outfits he wanted me to wear for the funeral: a heavy, gray tunic and slacks in which I felt like a monk. He thought the other one was too flirty, swishy. Fortunately, he did not die in January, but in May. So I wore the flirty, swishy outfit.