Sunday, July 31, 2011

Post-mortem

So,in January of 2008, shortly after I had decided to make my grandmother the first gift I would ever give her, I got a call from the nursing home (where I was listed as her next of kin), that she had passed away in her sleep. If you've been reading this blog, you know I didn't really "know" her, but I felt she needed to have everything tied up in a respectful way, so I set about making plans to take care of the process of giving her a proper goodbye.

I told the home that I would come about two days later, and my husband agreed to stay home with the kids. I rented a car, and set off for Pennsylvania. My sister came along with me (thank God!), and made that pretty winter day so much better...

When we got to the home, I assume that my grandmother's lack of frequent visitors had made the staff doubt that we were coming, because all of her personal items had been cleared out, and no one knew where they were. I know my grandmother didn't have much, but you would think there had been a hairbrush, a birthday card... something? Her clothes (just a few items) remained in the closet, and we left them for the home to use, since no one else would be using them. It was lonely and sad in her room, but we felt peaceful about her passing. She had lived a solid 94 years, after all.


We had an appointment with the funeral director to meet us there that afternoon. (She had no final wishes that we knew of.) When he arrived with my grandmother's ashes, we were seated on a couch next to a coffee table in the lobby. After handing us the ashes, he knelt down next to the table, and we both stiffened, thinking he was going to pray with us... Keep in mind that we didn't really know how to feel about this, and it was all just a procedure pretty much, since she hasn't been able to hold a real conversation within the past 20 years or so...


Anyway, we caught each other's glance for a short second, and I emitted a small snort...

It's a shame how my sister can make me laugh outta nowhere. Apparently, he just needed to kneel down to fill out the receipt. There wasn't enough room on the couch.

My mother has always told me that death is a part of life. I get that. It is also part of business. I try not to obsess when a client dies, but I really feel a connection, and it can be is hard to break that connection, even when our only reason for working together was a garment.

Years ago, when I was just starting to sew for people I had never met, I had a wonderful professional clown client named Paula. She was a very proud and vocal breast cancer survivor, who loved her job, and wanted her clothes to fit her well, following a mastectomy. I created new costumes for her, altered some clothes, and really developed a bond so close, it felt like we were related. She brought her mother along to one appointment just to meet me. I loved hearing her explain her tricks, and the features her costumes needed to accommodate them, about her love for kids and their birthday parties... she was just a joy. Her husband called to say she wasn't well when she was due to pick up some shirts, and a few months later, she never came, nor called. Her cell phone # had been disconnected. Her ad was no longer in the local newspaper. I can only assume what happened.

A while after that, I had a great client named Lenny, who was an extremely stylish older gentleman, who didn't want to sacrifice his snazzy appearance after a medical condition which prevented him for wearing anything that was snug at the waist. He needed jumpsuits designed to look like separate pants and shirts, so his clothing could be suspended from the shoulders, uniquely customized to hide his medical apparatus, and a discreet alternative opening for toileting. He was a GREAT storyteller, and we established a quick and genuinely tender rapport. He had been a neglectful father to his kids and wife, and had lost contact. I'll bet if they knew the man I knew, he would have been forgiven. As time passed, it hurt to see his wait for a kidney grow urgent, with no donors. Lenny, the stoic tough guy he was, called me one day, in a severely weakened state to say that we couldn't work on a new project, but he would love a visit from me when he got just a bit stronger. He trailed off at the end of that conversation. I knew what he was really calling to say, but couldn't find the words. He was such a sweet guy.

More recently, a client named Lisa who had undergone a complete transformation after lap-band surgery, had me alter her mother's old wedding gown within an INCH OF ITS LIFE (seriously) for her own wedding. She was incredibly shapely, and her new life had taken her to places she had never traveled before. On one of those great excursions, she met a man who promised her a life of luxury and happiness. She was thrilled to be with this man, and was so excited for her wedding, that the feeling was contagious. Her "before" pictures were unbelievable... Some months after her wedding, I saw a newspaper article that chronicled her unfortunate death from an accidental(?) self-inflicted gunshot wound. Heartbreaking.

On occassion, I do a post-mortem of my projects, to see where I am, where I'm failing... where I'm succeeding... where I'm profitable... I see that almost all of my clients come to me after a failed retail experience, and that the vast majority are looking for better fit/quality. This is valuable information in a business like mine, since, I can see that this is a significantly more expensive choice for my clients, and in this economy, I think more people will be interested in learning how to sew/alter than ever. I would like to be poised for this shift, and ready to teach!

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