I have to go shopping tomorrow. Clothes shopping. Now I’m not a stereotypical girly-girl who adores clothes shopping but, when in the right mood, I sometimes rather enjoy it. Quite often in fact. Occasionally it seems like a hellish task from hell and I hate all clothes, all shops and all people in a five mile radius. But often it’s not bad.
However, the reason I have to shop tomorrow is unusual. I have to find something to wear for a funeral…
I don’t think I’ll talk about the funeral itself; I don’t think I can put voice to the feelings I have about that. Maybe after it I’ll feel like I need to write it down but right now I can’t. Instead I’m going to focus on something as utterly trivial as clothes because sometimes you just need to cling to the surface stuff so you don’t get all pulled down into sadness. Sometimes you just need that.
I’ve never been to a funeral before. I’ve known several people who have died but for various reasons funerals have not been something I’ve experienced. I’m kind of scared but there is absolutely no question about whether I’ll go: being there is the right and honourable thing to do.
I know that one is supposed to wear black. And here is where it gets difficult. It seems insanely superficial to think about clothes at a time like that. Who cares what you’ve got on: someone has died.
And yet perhaps it isn’t so crazy. In times of crisis and sadness people need something to hold onto. I always feel like cultures with more ritual surrounding death must be better off – it gives you a way to carry on. I’m sure it doesn’t lessen the pain or loss; it just gives you rules to cling to, something to define the following days. Motions to perform while your mind and heart are whirling off into that ocean of grief.
Here we have very little ritual and so what we do have matters. Hence I know that my part is to be there, to support my family and to do so in the correct, respectful attire. Smart and black.
And I have nothing like that in my wardrobe. Plenty of black. A smattering of smart. But nothing overlapping. So I must go shopping. So I begin to think about my outfit. And my brain’s normal mindset kicks in:
BRAIN: Planning a specific outfit for a specific occasion?
ME: Yeah I am actually.
BRAIN: And the theme is black and smart you say?
ME: Not sure I’d call it a theme Brain but basically yeah. Any thoughts?
BRAIN: Ooh, a challenge! Well, you could buy that dress you saw the other day, you know that nice fitted one? Now, shoes, shoes, shoes: aha! Black low heels! Tiny bit of silver on them but still formal. And hmm, ooh, your favourite: jewellery! Now pearls might be nice…
And so forth. And then I realise what I am doing: I am enjoying planning my outfit and thinking that it will be a pretty good one. I immediately feel utterly terrible. And ever so shallow.
It hits me again. My stupid clothes do not matter in the slightest. We’ve lost someone. His wife and son are devastated. What else can possibly matter?
What can I do?
At a time like this you struggle to know. Nothing you do can bring back the person you’ve lost. The one thing you wish you could do. Nothing can make it ok. And so your brain skitters off; doesn’t always deal with it well. Clings to normal mindsets, normal processes that you do every time you plan on going to any event.
I think, perhaps, that is all you can do. Hang on to normality and try to behave with honour and dignity. If your intentions are true and good then it’s ok if your brain gets confused and acts stupid for a bit. Because all of a sudden nothing is right, nothing is normal. So you just… try to hang on.
And I’ll be there on the day. I’ll dress subtly, appropriately – I’ll do all that is polite and respectful. And when I am there all that will matter is my family. All of them.