What Do You Wear When You Are Grieving?

Credits: Photo - Anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt


It has been a tough past few days. Weeks really. Honestly, this sh*t storm started years ago. Earlier this week, I lost my friend and mentor after her nearly ten year combat with a hereditary terminal illness: f*cking cancer.

To be completely honest, the tears haven’t hit me yet. I know myself and I know I will break down and feel it eventually. To date, that darkness has yet to engulf me.

Today, I remind myself that my way is not the only way; I’ve checked myself. Thanks to the then groundbreaking work of Kubler-Ross and Kessler we can define and navigate five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Denial: Check, via N/A

I’m not much of a deny-science-kind-of-gal these days. When I was a naïve kid and teen (and maybe some of my early twenties, sure) I certainly put my foot in my mouth when faced with scientific evidence. Since then – and by the time she was diagnosed many years ago – I trust facts, data, and proven subject experts. I knew she was on limited time.

Anger: Check

That happened when she was first diagnosed. When she told me what was happening to her I slammed my hands on the table and yelled, “F*cking cancer.” I was hurt but eventually cooled down. What was anger going to add to the situation? I decided instead to be proudly kind. When she was undergoing treatment and lost her hair, I shaved my head in solidarity. We matched and we looked amazing, for the style record. My hurt – and baldhead - expressed my love. She understood that.

Bargaining: Check

Upon reflection, over our decade long friendship me helping her with tasks like home organizing, shopping, and taking her to appointments may have been this stage. I’d like to think it was being a friend, but I can understand that I may have been negotiating. Perhaps I thought that if I could help her with other things, she could then focus all her effort on kicking cancers ass. Sigh. I knew deep down that she was losing.

Depression: Almost check?

I assume that I am here or will be very soon. Stay tuned.

Acceptance: TBD

Because of the illness, her prognosis, and the nasty reality she had for a “qualify of life” over the last couple of years I feel like I can get here. But, as mentioned above, because of the lack of sadness washing over me just yet – the depression stage – I am not counting any over-the-hump-chickens just yet.

All of this grief talk to say that my personal style has – for the most part – been a tool for me to either process (that would include shaving my head) or reflect what is going on in my life. Sometimes it’s a prolonged phase and other times it’s only a look worn for few hours on a given day to communicate something.

As I approach her memorial service later this week I ask myself, “What will I wear?” This is a silly notion to some, but a serious consideration of mine. In our western world, it is common to wear black to signify that you are grieving. It is both a gesture to the deceased and those around the deceased. In other cultures, colour meanings are different, of course.

I hesitate on black head-to-toe because - like my mother (who by the way is alive and well) – she may not want us to wear black. It’s too late to ask her preference. In my mother’s case, she explains that she wants her life to be celebrated and brighter colours seem to align with that wish (I call partial B.S. because I know for a fact she just doesn’t like black). In the end, it’s same same: no black for my mom’s future funeral. Got it, Sharon. Part of this logic may ring true to honour my friend: it makes sense that she want me to celebrate her life rather than mourn her death.

Later this week my grieving style will meet somewhere in the middle. I will likely wear some black, but I’ll also incorporate other things. I will wear the perfume she got me as a gift. I will wear my orange python cowboy boots to honour her love of Stampede culture and her favourite colour. I may include something that expresses our shared love for dogs. I will, too, wear huge sunglasses in case the waterworks appear on high volume.

Whatever I decide I hope that I will, too, wear my heart on my sleeve. She truly meant the universe to me and it’s a terribly beautiful fact that she is gone. This will hurt.

What do you wear when you mourn? Do you wear black? Do your honour the deceased wishes? Do you incorporate their gifts or things that they love? Tell me because I need the support.