• Susan L. Williams

Shades of black, the thick, opaque, dense color that defines sorrow.

When I was widowed I wanted a uniform. Something I could wear that would set me apart from all of the other non grieving souls I walked by each day. I thought the darker my attire the more I could disappear, walk unseen in an alien landscape populated with people who were seemingly untouched by loss.

The light of the natural world seemed to pierce my skin and at times I felt that people could see inside of me. Everyone could see the devastated human that lived inside my skin. Opaque black could block such transparency. That's what I thought.

Visions of women Like Victoria, Queen of England, who lost her beloved Albert, settled into my brain and I longed for arm bands, huge dresses, veils, hats. The heavy fabric that reflects the weight of sorrow. But, alas, contemporary custom does not hold to Victorian customs.

Non-the-less, after the death of my husband I laid down the gauntlet and chose to wear shades of black. Coats, skirts, sweaters, pants, shirts - all black. I wore my dark attire including sunglasses through fall, winter spring, and summer for almost two years. I was marking myself as a widow. Ever so slowly color came back into my wardrobe, but muted tones of the natural world were all that were allowed in.

Mourning clothiers were popular in the nineteenth century when customs and rituals were more precisely defined by society.

Now we must define our own.

Jacqueline Kennedy lives in our collective heart as one of the quintessential

images of mourning. Her long black veil signifying her profound grief and

protecting her from the prying eyes of the world

In a culture that often ignores grief and often expects a rapid recovery from loss those who mourn can be left in a sort of stasis. We must define our own observance practice for as long as we deem necessary. Grief is not subject to linear time. Even simple things like the way we dress can express our inner world and signify our bereavement, if only to ourselves. This practice can last a lifetime.

For myself the wearing of black actually manifested into dressing up as grief itself. I painted my face, one side young and the other webbed with the lines of age. I draped myself in the garments of a darker time including a long black dress, hat and veil. I was following an inner voice that encouraged this odd behavior. I know this sounds a bit strange, but for me this was a breakthrough experience. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was exploring my relationship with grief. The grief that lived inside of me everyday. The experience felt incredibly honest and forthright. The inside became the outside and we were a match.

We must listen to our inner voice and even if that voice tells us to do something out of the ordinary contemplate the possibility. If the action does not harm you or anyone else, consider a way to let that expression live. If only for a moment.

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