Grief, my mum and me: “How my mother’s clothes are helping me get to know her”

Navigating through grief is a complex process. One woman shares how wearing her mother’s old sweaters and T-shirts is helping her find comfort and connection, amidst her grief.

My mum, Dipti, was wonderful. I’ve always been told how kind, loving and generous she was. Her feisty, outspoken nature could have got her into some trouble, but instead it gained her respect among everyone who knew her.

She knew what she wanted, and she made sure she got it. Her quick wit and sharp humour are the centre of most the stories I’m told about her. That, and her love for me because my mum always wanted a baby, no matter what.

I was born on 4 August 1998 at four minutes past midnight. Four minutes after that my mum passed away following complications from childbirth. She was 34.  

woman wearing Tina Turner T-shirt
Izzie wearing the Tina Turner T-shirt her mum bought at a concert in Paris

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It was understandably heart-wrenching for my family. It should have been a time of excitement, of welcoming a new baby into the world and celebrating. But instead, it was earth-shattering, and they were left with unimaginable grief.  

Despite that, my family rushed around to protect me, never showing me their struggles or pain. They stayed strong for me and gave me everything, as baby Izzie became the centre of their world. With the outpouring of unconditional love I received, I was a very happy baby. I lived with my mum’s parents and my dad would visit me every week. I was given the best childhood, full of special memories and great adventures.

But that didn’t stop me from noticing a huge, painful hole in my life.

As I got older, I started becoming angry and confused about the loss of my mum; I would wake up with terrible nightmares because I wanted her. It wasn’t fair that I didn’t get to have her, and I wanted to know why this happened to me. I remember constantly looking at photos of her, trying to imagine what it would feel like to have her hold me.  

I grew jealous of the relationships my school friends had with their mums, so at a very young age I began calling my grandma ‘mummy’.  

woman wearing grey jumper
Wearing one of her favourites, a grey jumper her mum bought on a trip to Washington D.C.

Grieving mum as I have grown up has been one of the most heart-breaking and challenging things I have ever had to navigate. Having to create my own memories of someone I never met has often felt impossible.

I would watch videos of her and look at old photos, trying to insert myself into the moment, imagining the conversations we might have had, or adventures we would have been on.

I dream about running around Paris visiting all her favourite spots and I yearn for moments where we would have cuddled in bed, belly laughing as we watch movies and gossip about the world.

These pictures and videos are amazing, but they are not enough. They don’t let me connect with her, because they are other people’s memories and connections, not my own. Each item, from her baggy T-shirts to comfy sweaters, makes me feel closer to her than I have ever felt before. I tie them to all the stories I have been told about her, associating each item to how she must have been feeling wearing each piece. 

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Since finding these items I have been wearing her clothes every day, and it has allowed me to become closer to her than I ever thought was possible. They have become my safety blanket, and as cliché as it may sound, it makes me feel that she is with me.

Knowing she was the last person to touch or wear these items makes me feel as though I am one step closer to her. It’s almost as if I am hugging her. I imagine I am feeling as she did when she wore them: safe, cosy, loved.

I smell her perfume, shut my eyes and wrap my arms around the fabric, imagining what she would say to me. What we would talk, laugh or cry about. What adventures we would have had.

Having to create my own memories of someone I never met has been heart-breaking and has sometimes felt impossible but having the clothes that made her who she was, makes me feel safe in my knowledge of her. Finding out that mum’s style was so similar to my own has been a huge comfort, and I can finally see my mum within me for the first time. It’s a magical feeling, finding the similarities between us.  

Isabelle Jani-Friend
Wearing one of her mum's baggy vintage tees

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When mum was 18, she moved to Paris to become an au pair, while taking evening classes at Sorbonne University. While she was there, she went to a Tina Turner concert on her own, and bought herself a black, oversized tour T-shirt. Not only do I adore the same music, but I also love the design of the top too. Knowing mum had the bravery to move abroad and go have fun at a concert on her own inspires me to live the best life possible. Because I know that she did.

Her grey jumper has the most sentimental value to me. She bought it on a visit to Washington D.C. while she was on holiday with her sister, who sadly passed away when I was a toddler. I know how special that trip was for both of them and being able to have my own piece of it, makes me feel incredibly lucky.

Finding my mum’s clothes has allowed me to connect with her in a way I never thought was possible.

They make me feel safe, but most importantly so proud to be her daughter. I was never able to say bye to her, I never even got to hug her, so having these clothes is helping me grieve.

Growing up, all I had were other people’s memories of her, but for the first time I feel like I am getting to know her myself. And I can say for certain, I am madly in love with her.  

Images courtesy of Isabelle Jani-Friend

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