Mourning Clothes: A New Retro Clothing Trend?

One of the best things about having very talented writing colleagues and friends is that when I’m taking a few days of from posting original content here, I can always find great material to which to link. As I continue to take this week to work on other projects, here’s another gem for you to ponder and share.

Jana Riess, my stellar book editor and author of the funny, thoughtful memoir Flunking Sainthood, writes in the Huffington Post today about why she wishes we still wore mourning clothes. Another friend recently said she wished we practiced the Jewish ritual of kaddish, which invites mourning family members to retreat from their regular routines and take on new ones in recognition of their altered state as someone who has just lost husband, wife, mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter. We do seem to have a problem in this culture not only with accepting the inevitability of death, but also with allowing those who mourn to do so in a way that doesn’t require them to either share their personal “stuff” with random strangers or pretend that life has gone on just the same as always. Jana’s mom died recently, and she wishes for mourning clothes because it would signal to everyone that she is living with fresh grief, without her having to explain it all the time.

About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • DaveP

    Hey Ellen, welcome back!

    > Another friend recently said she wished we practiced the Jewish ritual of kaddish, …

    My wife (who’s Jewish) does that. One or more times per week, they get at least 10 people together (a “minion”) and then say kaddish (a special prayer) along with those who are mourning. Kaddish is kind-of the weekly remembrance during the 1st year. There is also “sitting shiva” for the first seven days, and then “yartzeit” (sometimes spelled “yahrzeit”) which is a remembrance on the yearly anniversary of the death.

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      All of those rituals seem to be spot on—a more intense period right after the death and then ongoing rituals that lessen in frequency but still continue the furtehr away we get from the actual event. Lots of wisdom there that I think those of other (and no) faith could benefit from.

  • Marcie

    I held a memorial in my home a year after my mom died. I’m an Episcopalian and the rest of my family is Protestant so it was a Protestant funeral with little congregational participation. So, for me, my friends and I held a small memorial on the anniversary date of her death. I agree, the Western world has decided no one is going to die (insurance commercials “IF something should happen”) and everyone should buck up. 18 years ago when our 19 year old son was killed, a woman from church asked me about 6 weeks later if I was all over it. I replied that you never really get over a child’s death.

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      I cannot believe someone would EVER ask a parent if she were “over” her child’s death, much less a mere 6 weeks. People amaze me sometimes. I think we are all just so uncertain of how to behave in the face of great grief that we often end up behaving oddly.

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  • Rachel Marie Stone

    In her memoir of her mother’s death, The Long Goodbye, Meighan O’Rourke also expressed the longing for mourning clothes. She talks about feeling irrationally angry and wounded when a stranger bumped into her on the subway, and muses that if she’d been wearing mourning clothes, he would have taken care. He would have been gentler.

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      I had forgotten that scene in that book. So true.