Monday, December 15, 2008

In The Weeds

Is it just me, or does l'homme Michelin look like he needs to eat a sandwich?

Wearing mourning dress, or 'widow's weeds' is a custom that is still going strong today.

F.D.R. wore an arm band for a year in mourning for his mother.

When we think of people being 'in mourning' we often picture the Victorians. Certainly Queen Victoria and those of her time, made an art, an obsession, even a lifestyle out of mourning. They developed an evolving set of rules regarding how long the mourning should last (forever!) depending upon one's relation to the deceased, the colors to be worn for each period of mourning (black and white, and later gray and purple), which activities were allowed, and which were prohibited.

Because everyone mourns in their own way, these rules didn't work well for everyone. However, it would be a mistake to dismiss the tradition of being 'in mourning' altogether because many of us do find meaning and comfort by showing the world in some physical way that we are grieving, that we are saddened, that we are remembering and that we are changed because of the loss of someone special and loved. Fortunately, our culture has kept some of the traditions of mourning from the past, and transformed them, in some cases, very imaginatively, keeping the positive aspects and making them more relevant to how we live today.

You might be hard pressed to think of anyone farther removed from the propriety and constrictions associated with the Victorian era than the late Jerry Garcia. Yet, being 'in mourning' was something meaningful to him. He famously wore only black t-shirts following his mother's death. Incidentally, the name of the band 'The Grateful Dead' comes from a folk tale cycle revolving around variations on a theme of a traveller burying or providing funds for the proper burial of a stranger whose body would otherwise be left to the elements. The generous person is then rewarded by the ghost of the 'grateful dead'.

Like musicians, athletes are in the public eye, and are well known for the expressions of mourning displayed on their uniforms. Athletes have been quite innovative in developing patches and insignia in addition to wearing black arm bands as pictured above and below.

Courtesy of ESPN Uniform Watcher, Paul Lucas, here are some links to some wonderful patches, decals and caps worn in mourning by sports teams:
A Sleeve patch worn by the Anaheim Angels following the 1999 passing of owner and Singing Cowboy Gene Autry. Another Sleeve patch , this one worn by the Colorado Rockies in1999 in remembrance of the Columbine High School shooting victims.
First responder caps were worn by the New York Mets in 2001, and each year on Sept. 11 in memory of Policemen, firemen, EMS workers, and others who died while responding to the World Trade Center attacks. This Helmet decal was worn by the Texas A&M Aggies in1999
for the students killed by the collapse of the 1999 Aggie Bonfire . For a great article on this subject and a bewildering array of mourning items incorporated into athletic uniforms, visit Lucas' article on the ESPN site at

Members of a team are united in their mourning

Widow's Weeds, 19th Century
Sometimes the elements of mourning clothing are appropriated into street fashion to express feelings of sadness and longing that may not be tied to a specific loss- or maybe just to look cool.

Looking cool always seemed easy for the late Johnny Cash, 'The Man in Black', but that was just part of the story. Here, courtesy of YouTube, Johnny explains why he wore his 'weeds'

"'til things are brighter, I'm the man in black"- Johnny Cash

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization.


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