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Every year, I clean out my closet.

I take out sweaters I had promised myself I’d wear, but haven’t touched since I bought them; I toss jeans that are a little too faded, or purses that just aren’t my style anymore, and I send them to be donated.

Every year, as I move my way back into the closet, I see it.

My little purple bathrobe. It’s child-sized, and even at 4′ 10″, there’s no way I could fit into it now. It’s so worn, its fleece now rough and faded from use, the little rainbows all over its lining getting a bit duller as time passes by, as if they’re whispering, You were a child once, but not anymore. It hangs in the back of my closet, staring back at me, reminding me of everything I’ve lost. Because she was everything.

Every year, I rub the fabric between my fingers, and I think of her.

I think of the times I’d go to my grandma’s house after my grandpa died to spend time with her, and she’d cook me up homemade fries because she knew they were my favorite. I think of when she snuck me extra slices of ice cream cake, even though the sugar made me bounce off the walls, because she knew I loved it. I think of all the nights she let me stay up late and watch movies with her, because she knew I had a hard time sleeping. But when the time for sleep came, and I was afraid of the dark, she’d keep the TV on for me and let me sleep with her, in her big, comfy bed that she spent nights alone in after my grandpa’s death.

I think of the big purple afghan she knit me herself — the one I still have and use to this day — because she knew it was my favorite color. She lined it with silver yarn, because she knew I wanted to paint my room those colors when I was in elementary school, despite the fact that they’d likely look horrid together.

I didn’t care. I liked those colors. She did, too.

I still have the ceramic owls she gave me, painted silver and purple (“They will match your room!” she said). The paint-job was sloppy because she worked on them after her brain cancer had spread.

I didn’t care. I liked owls. She did, too.

My grandmother passed away on December 17th, 2003, when I was in sixth grade. It was the first Christmas without her there, cooking with my mom. Christmas was tear-stained that year; it was like the happy bright cheer of the holiday was only making the shadow of our grief darker, crueler, harsher against the sparkling of the Christmas tree.

I think she knew that would happen. She knew she wouldn’t be able to spend another Christmas with us. But she didn’t even let dying get in the way of making sure we got gifts from her that year, because that’s the kind of woman she was.

That Christmas Eve, my great aunt gave me a big, wrapped package with a bow on top. “This is from Grandma Ruth,” she said, her eyes glistening.

I took it from her. It felt fluffy, light.

For the first time in my 11-year-old life, I hesitated after being given a present. I didn’t rip the wrapping into pieces like an eager kid. Even at that age, I knew I was holding the last gift my grandmother would ever give me, and then that was it. She would be gone forever.

I took a deep breath and gingerly opened it. The first thing I saw was a shock of purple. It was a robe, covered in bright little rainbows, everything I could have possibly wanted. It was so beautiful. I ran my fingers over it, her voice echoing in my head — It will match your room!

I wore that robe as much as I could until I grew out of it. And every year, when I go through my closet, I get rid of all the clothes I don’t need — except for that robe.

Actually, strike that. I do need it. Even if it’s too small, and purple, and covered with rainbows.

I don’t care. I love that robe.

She did, too.

(Image via author, Shutterstock)