So one of the delights of my life was buying, washing, packing, folding and being photographed in the matching birth gowns I wore with my daughter Ellis Grace. We were the perfect pair from the start. And those bright swirly gowns of hot pink and white were joyful and comfy and girly. We were certainly all about girly that day.
Her wardrobe had been carefully planned for months. This February baby already had her Easter dress, summer swimsuit, and the perfect dress for a much anticipated family wedding in October. Lots of shoes and more baby headbands than one could count.
But when the funeral director asked me what we would have her wear, I was stopped in my tracks. That was an outfit we didn’t have. Not once had it crossed my mind to have something for her to be buried in. But she would indeed need one last garment and it would need to be perfect.
When I think of Ellis, I think of perfect, precious, timeless roses. And she did have a rose themed gown and hat from her birth. That seemed right at the time. But We couldn’t find the hat or any hat that would match. Her autopsy and organ harvest procedures had left a definite need for a hat and possibly a thicker dress of some sort.
I was distraught. Fashion was important to Ellis and me and she didn’t have what she needed. Everything that happened that week was all we would get and it was important that we get it right. So it was clear to me that she had to have a gorgeous christening gown of royal proportions with matching cap. We live far from such shops and I was too weak to shop.
My mother , who had never let me down on any ocassion in my entire life , began working the phones and gracefully demanding the best for her only granddaughter. Between her and my sister Ange, I found myself quickly and joyfully browsing gowns via video call with my niece Aidan who was a holy servant to us that Week.
The dress was perfect with satin laser cut design and Pearl trimmed edges. Pearls going down the center, little Pearl trimmed collar. And a sweet bonnet for my sweet girl. It was perfect. It was also from Dillard’s. My JoJo always said “If it’s important, you just need to go to Dillard’s and get it all at Dillard’s. You can mess around running all over to different shops but in the end you’ll wish you had just gone to Dillard’s. ” I knew even JoJo would be pleased.
And I was really glad shopping was over. Trauma, shock, and the crashing waves and rip tides of sorrow unspeakable had taken away any retail skills I had. I couldn’t find the dress department – or ask for help or dress myself even. And yet I would be publicly mourning my daughter on Friday and I would need to wear something. And it was Wednesday and we live in the middle of nowhere.
It was our last shindig that we would wear anything to . Her formal gown was perfect but it meant I would need to step up my game too. So at 5 1/2 weeks post- partum, I started ripping and tearing through a closet for a funeral garment. My maternity dresses were too saggy and they had been filled with too much hope when Ellis and I wore them together. My “regular” clothes wouldn’t be within my reach for many weeks.
If it was nice enough for the funeral, I couldn’t fit in it. And if I could fit in it, then it really wasn’t fancy enough to be the mother of the bride. After all this was a public reception celebrating my daughter meeting her bridegroom and that is a royal affair.
So shopping. Shopping would have to happen. My beloved sister since childhood, Shay, lovingly placed me in the car in a real Steel Magnolias moment and declared with a restrained smile that we would find the perfect thing. My friend Karen joined us as we started our mission at Kohl’s. Karen is my favorite shopping buddy because she is honest and hilarious. We would only need the honesty for this trip though.
But Kohl’s was a land mine for me. The ladies dresses were placed next to the baby department for convenience. And it conveniently ripped my heart out and brought me to my knees in a public store. After struggling for some time, Shay grinned and said “well I think JoJo’s right hon- I think we just need to go to Dillard’s.”
Now if there’s one thing Dillard’s had in spades, it was black ocassion dresses. Did . They. Ever. My friend Enedina met me there. And those 3 ladies made sure that I never had to speak to a sales person or tell my story, that I was not publicly viewed more than necessary, and most importantly that I found the right dress.
They brought a lot of lovely things that didn’t work. They brought some things that could work but I just wasn’t feeling. And then they brought a dress I thought was too fancy for a country funeral. “Do you think it’s too fancy? ” I asked Shay. She paused and said with a sweet and snarky tone, “we’ll have you seen what Ellis is wearing?” Followed by her signature Okie wink.
It was designer. It was expensive. Two things that are not normally in my closet. But It was heavily edged in Pearls. It had a pearl trimmed collar. And I realized it was the “matching” version of my daughters gown. We had been matching as she came into this world. And we would matching during her final curtain call.
It wasn’t additional cruelty to be forced to go shopping. It was my good good Father blowing kisses right to my heart. He gave me everything I needed . He spoke to my heart in the ways that confirmed He knows me best and He cared about what I cared about . . . Down to fashion and pearl clad collars. He even brought fresh the memories of JoJo which always bring me strength and comfort. Because let’s face it my Midwest sisters, sometimes you just need to go to Dillard’s. I’m now convinced that God shops there too when it really matters.
“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.” Matthew 6:28-29