To Wear Black, or Not, That is the Question


I used to watch old movies and ponder how cruel it was to force a widow to wear black for a set amount of time. I’ve always loved color. Vibrant colors, full of life and contrast, seem the best way to celebrate the wondrous variety God created our eyes to see. I watched Gone With the Wind as a teen and cheered when Scarlet dared to dance in her despised black gown, forced upon her by societal conventions.
Now that I’m a widow, I’m not so sure.
When I walk in public I sometimes wish there was a way to let people know without having to tell them. The times when I meet new people and find myself using the past tense verbs to describe my husband or talk how my kids’ dad “used” to do this or that. It isn’t long before I must bring it up and explain. Again.
And sometimes I’m glad for anonymity. Blending in with the crowds around me feels like wearing an invisibility cloak from Harry Potter. I’m used to being noticed. I’ve been a pastor’s wife, watched by the congregations we served for years. I’m a radio DJ, though that one still surprises me when people recognize me for it. I’m a center-stage person, often acting or speaking up front. But now being anonymous is sometimes welcome.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s exhausting. Like trying to chat with a nice lady at the new youth group my kids are visiting this past week. She was trying to plug the benefits of this church, to get a feel for where I was at. Was I new to the church or to God in general? You could see these questions in her eyes, hear the conversation feelers anyone who has been in church for very long recognizes. I felt weary having to tell her my husband wasa pastor. We’re visiting this church because he died and attending the one he was so vibrantly a part of was just too hard.
This brings me back to wishing for widow’s wardrobes of decades gone by. It’s almost laughable to picture myself in the black veil and head-to-toe sheathing of the Victorian era. Any of my friends would tell you sack cloth and ashes do not become the vibrant personality God gave me. (Though I do really look good in black.) But shouldn’t we have some sort of way to tell people, “Hey, cut this person a little slack. They are grieving. Don’t ask too many questions but be kind”? I noticed this Christmas while watching It’s a Wonderful Life with my kids that Jimmy Stewart wore a black arm band when his father died. When did we do away with those?
I’m not even sure what to do with my wedding band, to be quite honest. It feels wrong off and it feels wrong on. I’ve worn that thing for over 20 years and never had it slip off until two months ago when the weather was cold and for a panicked 10 minutes I could not find it in church. I’ve lived in arctic North Dakota and never lost it. Somehow it’s like it doesn’t want to be there anymore, but without it my hand feels amiss.
I googled “how long to wear a wedding band after spouse’s death.” We do live in the Google age with an answer to anything easily at our fingertips. One response said it was a personal decision but a year was often the ball park. It’s been four and a half months. My sister agreed it was too soon to feel I should take it off, though she didn’t imply I couldn’t. I vacillate on what to do with that ring.
For now I’ll keep wrestling with my wedding ring, keeping it tucked safely away if it’s so cold it slides off my finger. I will wear it when I’m out of the house until it doesn’t bother me not to anymore. I don’t know if that will be a good thing or a bad thing.
Perhaps I’ll try to come up with some type of grief wear. I sew, though not usually clothing. Maybe I could bring back that Jimmy Stewart arm band. I could make a little pocket in it for cards that the bereaved could carry stating, “I’m still working through the death of someone in my life. Please be patient and give me some grace.”  They might look like a rolled up pack of ‘cigs in a t-shirt worn by a street tough in Grease. I could sell them on Etsy. Stranger things have shown up there. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog.
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