On a recent afternoon, after weeks of putting it off, I opened the door to the overstuffed closet in our guest room, ready to clear out its excesses.

I was stopped in my tracks.

Hanging in front of me was a pink mint green prom dresses on a satin hanger. And, instantly, I was in the grip of memory's power.

This was not just any dress.

It had to be pink. My mother had decided the last dress she would buy on this earth was going to be in her lifelong favorite color.

And not just any pink. Mom had decided, when there were no more options in her oncologist's armamentarium, that she would buy a pink dress with distinct character.

"Not one of those boring pale pinks," she had proclaimed. Not for this 97-year-old who always had a weakness for fashion. "I want an occasion dress."

And, indeed, there was an occasion in the offing in about eight weeks: the bat mitzvah of Mom's first great-grandchild, the adored Hannah.

"I'll be there," she told me. "And I'll find that dress." This 100-pound warrior was going in style.

I blinked, swallowed hard, and said I understood.

I also understood that after months of battling lymphoma, Mom had extremely limited energy. But not too limited, she made clear, to shop at her favorite haunts.

It wasn't easy. My mother was blessed - and possibly cursed - by being proud. She railed at the idea of a cane, hated to bother family members for transportation, and took Philadelphia city buses any time she could.

But for this pink-dress search, she agreed I could be her driver. In exchange, I was often handed homemade chicken soup, a brisket, and my absolute passion - Mom's noodle pudding.

So it came to pass that I drove not Miss Daisy, but Ms. Lillian Abrams, to stores of which she approved.

The list was not long. Department stores and select discount stores could be trusted, she believed. Private little shops? Not so much, because of sales pressure.

Let me cut to the chase - and it was one. Mom and I both knew the clock was ticking, her strength was waning, and Hannah's bat mitzvah was fast approaching.

"I'm looking for a pink occasion dress," she would tell any salesperson who could be found in today's self-help marketplace. Some - especially the younger ones - stared blankly. That term "occasion dress" was unfamiliar, a vestige of the era when most women wore dresses all the time.

"Pink is out of season," many told her as the brisk days of fall were upon us.

There was another issue. The scars of many transfusions and probes were visible on one of Mom's arms. And yet she had decided, quite firmly, that she wanted a dress with short sleeves.

I learned not to argue after I pointed out that concern to my mother, who promptly informed me those battle scars were nobody's business.

Several times we came close to finding an occasion dress. One was even pink. But not the right pink.

And then one afternoon, when I was certainly about to fold, Mom spotted it - a beautiful, assertively pink dress with short sleeves, a fitted bodice, and a certain glamour. I was in the dressing room with her when the moment came. "This is it!" Mom said, as triumphant as I've ever seen her. That dress became a metaphor for her past, present, and brief but shining future.

The news that the store was offering 10 percent off department-wide was the final triumph. Mom definitely loved a bargain.

On the evening of Hannah's bat mitzvah, I went up to my mother's apartment, ready to help her with the finishing touches. She opened the door with a megawatt smile, delighting in her newly styled hair, her best low-heel pumps, her discreet makeup.

At 97, my mother might have been a prom queen, so delighted was she with her pink dress. And in that prom spirit, she had even found a pink silk flower with which to adorn it.

I had to look away for a moment so she wouldn't see my tears. Unsaid, but deeply felt, was that this was remarkable, uncharted mother-daughter territory - Mom's last hurrah, her public goodbye in her last dress.

The lady in pink got to her great-granddaughter's bat mitzvah that October night. And she never stopped smiling.

By December, she was gone.

But that pink dress, after 10 years, remains on its satin hanger in the closet. And there it will stay.

Downstairs, on our den bookcase, there is a photo of my mother in that emerald green prom dresses with the bruises on her arm, reminders of lymphoma's toll.

 

And I still smile when I remember that they were, after all, "nobody's business."