Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Lock

On Tuesday, Diane on the Good Mourning Glory Blog posted some very nice pictures from Ebay auctions of Victorian mourning jewelry that include locks of hair from the deceased.  Jewelry and other art and craft work made from hair was very popular in the Victorian era, and as Diane notes, it was not limited to the hair of the deceased or to mourning pieces.

There are number of sites that cover this topic very well.  In addition to the Good Mourning Blog at 
and The Victorian Hairwork Society at

A lock of hair seems to capture a moment in time.  I've seen the lock of hair my mother took from me as a baby, curly and red in a way that it never was again.  My wife and I have a couple locks of our daughter's hair.  One was taken as soon as her hair got long enough to make a lock, and the other was from the time she tangled up the brush so tightly in her hair that it had to be cut out.   We don't look at these locks very often, but they bring back happy memories for us when we do.  So,  I think I can appreciate how the Victorians felt about an art form that gives most people the creeps today.  

Locks of hair are still requested by grieving families.  Several years ago I worked with a wonderful one.  The widow was from the states, but had met her husband in Southeast Asia, where he was a physician.  She told me about him as we sat together in the small visitation rooms that were common in the Pacific Northwest where I worked at the time.  This vibrant man had worked very hard to earn the funds to pay for his education.  His energy and  drive took him all over very rough terrain to administer health care to the very poor in his country.  This sacrifice had serious consequences and he contracted hepatitis from a needle prick in the course of his work.   Another sacrifice he made was for his wife.  They returned to her home in Portland, but his credentials were never recognized in this country, and this man who had worked so hard to be a doctor had to look for other work.  The couple were nonetheless very active in working for the causes they believed in, even while he was losing his weight and energy, and eventually his life, to the cancer that followed his hepatitis.  
I was fortunate enough to spend several hours on both of the visitation days that we held for this man at the funeral home, mostly hearing about his strength, sacrifice, and the love shared by the two of them.  At the end of the second day before his casket would be closed and his cremation would take place, she asked me for a lock of his rich black hair.  "It's the only thing about him that the illness didn't change." she said.

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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.