The Lead Jacket

Yesterday, I was reading a short article about the hottest new fashion items for spring. There is always an article like this at every change of season. The absolute essential ten pieces you need in your wardrobe to survive the next four months.

I don’t always buy into the fashion of the month, but the change of season does bring a sense of renewal, and the urge to purge my closet.

So, yesterday, I did just that. I dove into that closet and starting pulling things from hangers and shoving them into bags for the Goodwill. Haven’t worn it in six months? Good bye. Don’t need the stuffy business suits of years gone by? Off they go. Pants too tight? Adios. Pants too loose? Good bye, but let’s take a moment to celebrate shall we?

If you’re like me, you have The “Armageddon” Closet. It is prepared for any wardrobe scenario you may be faced with.

Faced with a tornado, followed by a frost warning, with an evening of rain? I have this jacket I’ve held onto for just that very day. On a diet of lettuce? Choose the pants on the left. Having a love affair with Oreos and Ruffles? Pants on the right please. Zombie attack? I have an outfit with enough pockets to accommodate the various weapons required to save yourself and those you love from the wrath of the undead.

But really, who needs it? Is my closet living in the present moment? Do I need to be prepared for every wardrobe scenario?

So, I purge. There is a steady stream of clothes flying out of my closet. It feels good to clean out, to gut, to purge. It is good to get rid of old clothes and the memories attached to them, to make room for new stuff, perhaps, dare I say, a new size that is more acceptable to me?

And then I find it. A shelf full of memories. The first was one of Stephen’s t-shirts. I remember holding this item close to me so many lonely days. If I closed my eyes and smelled the shirt, it almost felt like he was still here. Next I found some papers, school stuff from his younger days, pictures I had tucked away in this private space for me alone. And finally, I found his bag. It was filled with vitamins, allergy medicine, dental floss and contact solution. I’m sure he just emptied his medicine cabinet into this bag before he came home for summer. Everything was neat and organized, and labeled. So Stephen.

I’m not sure why, in the 20 months or so since losing him, I have not emptied the bag, or thrown it out entirely. I’ve just let it sit there. I’ve looked at it several times, knowing I need to do something with it, but never being able to actually make the move. There is something about the bag and its contents. It reminds me of his personality. It leaves a lingering scent of his life, even after all this time, when most of the fragrance has dissipated.

And so, I sit in my closet and I cry. I look at his organized dental flosses and I cry all over again for someone who is gone too soon.

And I realize. No matter what the season change, or what the fashion magazines say about this year’s hottest looks, there is one item I will always have in my closet. My lead jacket of grief. Most days, it hangs there. I look at it each morning, but choose to wear something else. But every now and again, regardless of the weather or season, I will wear it for a little while. I will put it on and allow myself to once again feel the pains of a loss so tremendous that I could never find the words to adequately describe it.

The jacket is heavy, but comfortable in a way as well. It hugs into you, and reminds you of the love you share with the person lost, and how that love still surrounds you to this day. There are always tissues in the pocket of the lead jacket. The heaviness of the garment forces you to slow down, to release some of the minutia of daily life, and just be with the sadness. In your stillness, sitting with the grief, you remember, you lament, and you heal yourself all over again.

You don’t have to wear it often, but you will always return to this important piece of your wardrobe. It is important that you do. It is the only piece in your closet that will teach you something each time you wear it.

For me, I wore it for a couple of hours yesterday. I’m not sure when I will try it on again. But I know I feel different today because I did take the time yesterday to let myself feel the weight of the jacket and my continued sadness over the loss of my son. I feel lighter, for allowing the built up sadness to just get out. I feel like I can go a little further. I feel like I have once again been reminded of what matters in this life. It is okay to feel the sadness, and then move forward and live a happy life, wiser because you were brave enough to acknowledge it.

The lead jacket. Not just for spring. And a piece of your wardrobe that will always fit.

Take some time today to look in your closet. Find your own lead jacket. We all have one. Don’t be afraid to try it on once and a while and see what you find out about yourself.

Kelly Buckley writes about her life after the sudden death of her 23 year old son, Stephen.  She recently published a book, Gratitude in Grief, about finding little things to feel grateful for in the first two months following Stephen’s death. She also blogs here:

You can get info about her book here:

Photo Credit.


  1. Bill said on June 23, 2011 at 12:26 pm ... #

    What a wonderful analogy! I love the permission to take the jacket on and off. I especially like your comment “It’s okay to feel the sadness and then move forward and live a happy life, wiser because you were brave enough to acknowledge it.”

  2. Sarah said on June 25, 2011 at 12:11 pm ... #

    Thank you for this article, it really helped me alot today. I’ve been avoiding my jacket for a few months, but you have given me permission to wear it again for a brief time.

  3. taja said on June 26, 2011 at 10:01 pm ... #

    love it! i literally still have a shirt with a flag on it that my dad used to wear on the 4th of july, i wear it every year, it is is little big but a button down so i can roll up the sleeves, when people comment on it i tell them it was my dads!

  4. Kristy said on July 26, 2011 at 3:46 pm ... #

    Thank you for sharing your powerful grief experience. I love that you describe your grief as heavy but comfortable and that feeling the saddness one day allows the weight to be lighter the next. How true.

  5. Sadie said on September 29, 2011 at 9:54 am ... #

    Thank you, sharing your story. The saddness and pain I feel over the death of my son. I lost my son to cancer May 30,2011. Felix was 28 years old, my baby. Thank you, again. Will the tears ever dry? I don’t think they will.

  6. Justin said on December 21, 2011 at 1:14 pm ... #

    Thank you for reminding me that it is ok to wear the jacket.

  7. Toni said on December 22, 2011 at 12:03 pm ... #

    My grief right now is a little different than what most have shared. My grief is about the loss, though chosen, of a position that I loved. I am retiring and I didn’t expect to feel this sadness. The loss of identity, self worth, etc. Thanks for the permission to grieve as I’ve been feeling silly about my feelings. When my parents died, I allowed myself the time to grieve but my very wise daughter pointed out to me that this that I am currently experiencing is also a grief.

  8. Jessica said on March 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm ... #

    Some times when I clean I come across small stuff (Jackie died at age 2 27 sept 2005) an appointment slip, a insurance card, a bill from daycare with her name on it. It tears me up, I can’t get rid of them, I shuffle the stuff and then find it the next time I go to cleaning, I’m in a loop and don’t know what to do.

  9. Sandy said on March 12, 2012 at 3:27 am ... #

    Wow. I guess I was meant to read this today. I just recording my account of my feelings during the 17 days my father was in the ICU after his horrific car accident in August. He died September 1st. My good days are starting to outnumber my sad days, but I still have my sad days. The accident happened 6 weeks after I moved to CA, with no family out here, so support system. I’m a changed person since then and find it hard to let anyone in my heart. Yet I share my feelings about my grief very openly. I feel a sense of freedom, knowing that my Dad sees all now, so I have nothing to hide. My new normal is feeling a little more comfortable. The tears aren’t daily anymore. But it still hurts to think about how he died.

  10. Joan Camilleri Hall said on March 12, 2012 at 4:47 pm ... #

    Amazing to read this as I wake this morning. Today the police will come to see our family to tell us how my dear brother was murdered and why, after the arrest of a second person in the case. The analogy of the ‘lead jacket’ is perfect. It helps to feel okay about wearing it but also taking it off. Thank you x

  11. Christina said on July 15, 2012 at 1:19 pm ... #

    Thank you for sharing this article with us. My son was 19, riding his bicycle and was killed in a hit and run accident in Dec 2010. The court case finally ended in May 2012. I thought I would be better and my “lead jacket” wouldn’t have so much weight by now and I was wrong. Thank you for helping me see a little better how I will always have this jacket and that it is okay to embrace my son and the pain that comes with his loss using the “lead jacket” analogy and it is okay to take it off when I can too. Thank you.

  12. Kathy said on February 12, 2013 at 11:10 pm ... #

    Simply… Thank you.
    The jacket is heavy.

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