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I Wore Stripper Shoes to My Sister's Funeral

If there's anything you shouldn't wear to a funeral, it's probably stripper shoes. Mine were a shocking turquoise, and about a size too small.

If there's anything you shouldn't wear to a funeral, it's probably stripper shoes. Mine were a shocking turquoise, and about a size too small. My feet were squished and swollen in the Southern summer heat. It was flip-flop season.


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But they were my sister's, and I was at her funeral.

This is how I got there: Days earlier, I had found myself wandering through her apartment. "Take whatever you want," my relatives told me, all of us in shock at her suicide. So I rummaged through the one-bedroom she shared with her boyfriend, searching under the bed and in the closet for an explanation, a reason for why she was gone, but only finding shoes.

And then, more shoes.

My sister loved high heels. She had those perfect feet that fit into the display pair at stores—the petite, narrow feet that other girls envy. My friends would laugh when she showed up to our house party in stilettos, the rest of us in sandals. She was two years below us at the same college, and they knew her well. We ate dinner at the Thai restaurant where she waited tables, and helped her navigate the dorms when she arrived on campus.

My sister was too young to have fancy art or anything of serious value. But she had so many shoes.

Take whatever you want. Was I supposed to want something? It felt like a garage sale, a free-for-all. What was even appropriate to take? I wasn't sure of the rules. My sister was too young to have fancy art or anything of serious value. But she had so many shoes.

So that's what I took. I grabbed every last kitten heel, wedge and pump and piled them into my arms like a lunatic. (And a hairdryer, but I swear that was mine in the first place.) My friends, there for support, were confused but silent. They knew the shoes weren't designer. They were cheap. In fact, many were scuffed and missing heel taps.

I recognized some of them, like the sandals she bought on a trip to New York City with our father, and the hot pink heels she "borrowed" from a friend and neglected to return. Her latest favorites were a shiny pair of turquoise stilettos with pointed toes. They looked like something a stripper would wear, but she had the confidence, the "look at me" attitude, to pull them off.

She was attention-seeking when I was shy, a lovable troublemaker when I painstakingly followed the rules. As kids, I ate the crunchy outside of the onion ring, and she ate the inside. We were black and white, yin and yang.

The next few days passed in a blur. Grief has a strange effect on time. We were sleeping at my grandmother's house, my friends and I bunking up in the spare bedroom. There was too much booze and too many flowers. Even on the day of the funeral, it felt, curiously and guiltily, like a party.

Like you, I know the rules. Wear something modest. Shun style. Black, of course. So I'm still shocked I decided it would be OK to wear those turquoise stilettos to the funeral. How did I think I was going to walk in them? Looking back, I doubt I would have been able to walk without them.

Even in a haze of heartache, it made perfect sense: She loved shoes. I loved her.

Even in a haze of heartache, it made perfect sense: She loved shoes. I loved her. So in tribute, I would wear them. I told my friends, and they decided they would, too.

My friend drove us to the funeral home in my grandmother's car. My mom sat in the backseat. At red lights, she'd unscrew a bottle of dark nail polish and run the brush across her nails. But it was a sloppy job. By the time we parked, it looked as though my mother had gingerly dunked her fingertips into a can of black paint.

She clutched my arm as we walked inside, but my own legs and feet deserve no credit. I swear those shoes carried me like a magic carpet.

And then, there they were. The shoes. My friends stood, a line of soldiers, their feet a rainbow. They wore the pumps, the stilettos, the platforms, the eccentric, neon heels I had dug from my sister's closet just days earlier. Shoes that were so out of place at a funeral, but so perfect at this funeral.

Death is like fashion in that there are no rules in either. (Yes, even when it comes to funeral wear.) I realize now that none of those shoes fit. But if anyone looked twice at us—and I'm sure they did—I don't remember. That unique memorial, however, will be hard to forget.

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