I stumbled upon an article on the history of mourning clothes a couple of weeks ago. Then I spent an inordinate amount of time in a Google abyss reading article after article. I have been thinking about what I read since then and I thought some of you might find it interesting.
In Victorian times the custom was for women to wear to wear black for two years after the loss of a loved one. The first year the fabric was of a matte finish; the second year black satin or black lace could be added. After the two year period, women went into “half-mourning”; they could begin to add mauve or lavender to their wardrobe. Jewelry was to be kept to a minimum with a black matte finish. Men in Victorian times wore black pants and coats. As they re-entered the work world they would wear a black armband on the sleeve. Even Victorian children were dressed in black for a specified period of time. Scarlett was scandalous in Gone with the Wind when she wore her red dress so soon after her first husband lost his life in the Civil War.
The Victorian custom went out of fashion during World War I because of the large number of casualties. I guess every family would have been dressed in black. Men began to wear a black band on their hats. Women didn’t wear black as long a period as before. Slowly, over the years, black or dark clothing was limited to the day of the funeral.
The most interesting thing I discovered was the fact that black wasn’t really designed to honor the memory of the deceased. Black was meant to be an outward display of the inner feelings of the family. It was supposed to signal to the public, hey, I have recently lost a loved one and I would appreciate it if you would be gentle with me.
We have evolved into a society that wants to write new rules for everything. Men don’t remove their caps in a building. Men don’t offer bus seats to females. Girls can ask boys on dates. I don’t even need to start with social media and the ways that we are losing civility.
Even though society’s etiquette rules have almost become extinct, our heart still breaks when we lose someone we love.
I have lost both parents, a brother, and a child and I can tell you that even though I may not wear black after the funeral, my heart still feels tender. My feelings are raw, sounds are loud, lights are bright. Life feels too hectic. Everything is “too” much.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had an outward symbol that let people know that a gentler tone, a little space, a softer touch, a little more compassion and a wider berth would be appreciated because we have suffered a loss. Most adults have to return to work for economic reasons far more quickly than their hearts would like. Just because someone has returned to work and is competent at their job doesn’t mean that they aren’t still in mourning. It would be a blessing if one had an outward symbol to wear that let strangers know that a tender heart was in their presence.
There is no time limit on grief. One cannot assume that a month, six months, a year, or two years is plenty of time for grief. I have decided that grief never goes away it just becomes a little less painful over time. There are good days and bad days. It is not appropriate for others to dictate whether I should be “over it”. Everyone deals with loss in their own time.
I know that realistically most people don’t want to wear black mourning clothes for two years. However, it would be helpful if the public could have an outward symbol to remind them that there is a “Broken Heart on Board”. It is exhausting for a person who has suffered a loss to tell the same painful news over and over. It would be nice to be able to wear an armband and simply have the observer say, “I am sorry for your loss. How may I help you?”
If we can’t comfort and show respect for another person in a time of mourning, what occasion warrants it?
Peace and love.
Have you ever felt this way?
She writes about life, death, grief, and recovery.