My flannel shirts are comfortable. Are they fashionable? Heavens no. But they’re comfortable, and comforting, and that’s really all that matters on some days. It’s about comfort. Period. Flannel shirts became a staple of my winter wardrobe on December 23, 1999 just before the turn of the century when we were concerned about the pending crisis of Y2K and the crash of the world’s computers. Y2K was barely a hiccup, but December 23, 1999 was a day that caved in on me.
Just a few days earlier, on December 17th, 1999, I’d received a call from a hospital in Peachtree City, GA, telling me that dad had suffered a major heart attack and was in critical condition. I dropped everything and asked my friend and neighbor, Kitty, to care for my teenage daughter. I tossed a few things into an overnight bag and headed north toward Atlanta for a six hour drive in my little gold Saturn. My prayer for the entire drive from Pensacola FL to Peachtree City GA was simple, “Please God, let me say good-bye to my Dad.”
Dad fought a heroic battle. Each day I would head to the hospital with my dad’s wife and we’d spend the day in the ICU with dad, then head home late at night. I hadn’t packed warm clothes appropriate for the bitter, damp Georgia cold so I pilfered my dad’s closet and plucked out one of his thick plaid flannel shirts to wear as a sweater. Dad had an eye for quality and only bought the best flannel shirts available. He kept them neatly pressed and on wooden hangers in his closet. I picked a red one to wear, thinking it would lift my spirits for Christmas.
Spending the week before Christmas in a hospital was an emotional challenge. Losing my dad to a final, fatal heart attack in an Intensive Care Unit sprinkled with Christmas cheer and decorated with twinkling lights, a Christmas tree, and stockings embellished with the names of the nursing staff was a surrealistic experience. I couldn’t reconcile the conflict of Christmas spirit and the joyful celebration of a new life, with the ending of a life and the loss of the man who had loved and protected me throughout my life.
When I said good-bye to my dad I was wearing his flannel shirt. That was the day that dad’s flannel shirts became a staple of my winter wardrobe. Before I left Georgia to return home to Florida on Christmas Eve, I packed three of dad’s flannel shirts into my bag. That is the entirety of my tangible inheritance from my dad; three flannel shirts.
Each year I pull out dad’s flannel shirts and wear them through the cold weeks of winter. They pull me close to dad, warming body and soul, and help me remember the love and joy of a perfect father-daughter relationship. I am comforted in knowing that although death ended dad’s life, it could not end the fact that I had a wonderful, loving relationship with my dad.
I never thought another piece of clothing could be as comforting as dad’s flannel shirts until just the other day. Feeling a chill I stepped into my closet and instinctively pulled out a lightweight cotton v-neck pullover sweater to wear while I dashed to Publix grocery store to pick up a few things. Pulling it over my head I remembered that the sweater had been a gift several Christmases ago. My dear friend, Kitty, bought one for herself in blue, and one for me in pink. I pulled my arms through and instantly felt the same comfort, the same connection of spirit. My dear friend Kitty passed away this year on December 8th after a valiant battle with cancer. The simple cotton sweater is so much more than a piece of clothing. It is a reminder that the comfort of having a friend may be taken away, but death cannot undo the experience of having had a friend. This sweater will take its place among my dad’s flannel shirts.
Flannel shirts and a cotton pullover sweater; they may not meet the latest fashion trends but they will forever be a winter staple for me. Although Dad and Miss Kitty no longer walk this earth with me, they will always be there to sooth my spirit and warm my heart. The flannel shirts and the cotton sweater remind me of the joy of knowing them, and of my gratitude for their influence on my life. I cannot help but wonder, “When I am gone, will anyone wear something left behind by me? And, will it bring them comfort?”