This past week we attended the memorial for my husband Peter’s oldest sister, Shelley.
Shelley went through a long battle with cancer, and Peter lost his second sister in two years. The pandemic had just started, her husband had just died, and Shelley moved 900 miles across the country to live near her kids. Then, almost immediately, she discovered she was gravely ill. She moved in with her son, Joel, and daughter-in-law, Dani, and never left.
Shelley had several operations that did not go well, then chemo, which did not make her feel better, and finally she died peacefully, surrounded by the family who loved her so much. Meanwhile, all the things she packed up in the moving van remained in a storage unit.
Shelley was a woman of style. She was a striking beauty all her life. She dressed in bright colors and coordinated every outfit with care and, whenever the occasion called for it, she wore a hat. So I thought I’d wear a hat to Shelley’s memorial.
I am not generally a hat-wearing person. But I like to dress up, and a day dedicated to remembering Shelley seemed like an occasion that called for it. So I ordered a fancy black hat.
Peter liked the idea, and emailed Dani.
“Did Shelley have some other hats you could bring to the service that people could wear if they wanted?” he wrote.
He got no response.
This was unlike Dani. Dani has the biggest heart of anyone I know. When Shelley was in the nursing home for several months, Dani organized it so that Shelley had a visitor every single day she was there. Dani planned parties for Shelley’s birthday, took her to all of her doctor appointments and cooked for her every day.
“I screwed up,” Peter said. “I didn’t mean to make more work for Dani!”
I decided to wear my hat, regardless. I knew Peter’s ex-wife planned to attend, which caused me a twinge of concern. She is a reserved and sensible person, two adjectives rarely applied to me, and was unlikely to show up in headgear the size of a hula hoop. No matter, I thought. Shelley would have liked it.
On the day of the memorial we walked into the funeral home and saw Dani, wearing a hat. Next to her was her daughter, also in a hat. As I entered the lobby, I saw hats on the back of the chairs, over the lamps, sitting on the tables. They were everywhere, and they were all Shelley’s hats.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to do it,” Dani confessed. “That’s why I didn’t answer you. They were all in storage. But one day, I had a couple of hours, and I said, ‘what the heck!’ I had to empty about a third of the storage unit until I got to this huge washing-machine box. It was filled with hats and hatboxes. I started to empty it, but I couldn’t reach the bottom. So I climbed in and kept emptying it. Then I couldn’t get out!”
Dani didn’t tell us how she eventually got out of the washer box. It was apparently not dignified.
But the result was magnificent. Every woman wore a hat. Everyone took their hat home as a memory of Shelley, and I can only imagine how delighted she would have been.
Funerals tend to end up looking alike, and we all go to too many of them. But no one will ever forget the sea of colorful hats, a little bit of Shelley in every one.
Till next time,
Carrie photos from the column and a link to YouTube videos can be found at CarrieClasson.com.