My grandfather died when I was five and I remember my grandmother wearing black. “Yes” my mother told me, she would be mourning for at least a year, black dresses and all. Grandma was born in the late 1800’s and practiced a modified version of what she learned in her childhood. I read that a Victorian widow wore a veil for a year and mourning clothing for two years. Many widows continued the practice until the end of their lives.
Besides the dresses, my Grandma also wore a mourning locket. It was black with sterling silver edges and hung from a necklace of black beads. Inside was a photo of my grandfather’s face. My mother gave me the locket – I still own it- but once I knew what it was, it seemed odd and somewhat disrespectful to wear it as a fashion accessory.
Just after the holidays I ran into an acquaintance whose wife died in the fall. It’s difficult enough to feel low for any reason during the holiday festivities but hardest of all when death has recently paid a visit. She stopped by a party to say hello to a few people. She had just returned from a trip to snow country, out West. My heart went out to her and when she somewhat abruptly said she must leave, of course I understood. The prior year memories were still fresh in her mind, in her heart. Her joys from the past were inextricably tied to someone who is no longer here.
At home, every object can serve as a reminder, a memory. Sometimes you just want to get out. Then you go out, and, unless it’s to someone else’s funeral, the entire world feels like it is on a different vibration than you. Other people can seem happier than they’ve ever been and you feel like fleeing but the only place you want to go is home, and home has more memories than anywhere but at least you can cry and scream and crawl into a ball for as long as you want without feeling self-conscious.
The Victorians had something with their habits. Just by looking at a stranger, you would know if they were in mourning, you might resist mentioning “What beautiful weather we are having” or resist giving them a big smile with the greeting “And how are you today?” Best to just say “How good it is to see you” and leave it at that. We would already know how the day was going, that grief was their constant companion. A mourner could experience the loss one holiday, one birthday, one anniversary at a time, fully feel their grief and no one would try and talk them out of it, tell them to let it go and move on. For at least a full year.
In some cities, black is the most common color people wear. I’m sure some people have added a mourning locket to their look. We can’t go back, but I think the Victorians had it right. A full year when anyone who saw you, stranger or friend, knew that you had suffered a gut wrenching loss and might not have the patience to endure pleasantries for some time. But we can’t go back and so those grieving endure as best they can.