Back in the olden days, you wore black to show you were in mourning over a lost loved one.
These days, there is no signifier we wear to show the world we are grieving. We may disappear from the public arena for a while but eventually, we need groceries, and to earn a paycheck, and to drop the kids off at school. And while sorrow is still a constant companion, the world at large is none the wiser about the grief we still carry in our hearts.
I often wonder if we abandoned a helpful tradition when we stopped wearing black mourning clothes for months and even years after the funeral. Our culture doesn’t know how to handle grief, or how to make space for it. There are no set steps to follow after the memorial service, just a vague expectation of “shouldn’t you be over it? Isn’t it time to move on already?” But if we could see someone wearing their grief, we would at least know to handle the person with care.
“Wearing mourning dress did offer a kind of protection for the bereaved. Other people understood at a glance that a widow was in grief. Expectations and demands were lowered, a quiet kind of sympathy offered, and even strangers could see that a person was not at their best, having suffered a terrible loss.”– Dolores Monet
Assume the worst to love the best
I have a feeling that if we wore signifiers like that today, the world would be a kinder, gentler place. And not just black for mourning, but other colors too. What if there was a color for “struggling with mental illness,” or “exhausted, running on fumes,” or “just got terrible news”? Would it be too difficult to wear our true feelings on our sleeves? Would that be too much vulnerability? Or would that instead invite others to treat us with more thoughtfulness?
Earlier this week, I walked into the church office of one of my colleagues. If I had been wearing a color to show how I was feeling, it would have been whatever color was for “frustrated and emotionally spent.” My face must have betrayed me when she asked me how I was doing because she immediately stopped typing on her computer and rolled her desk chair to where I was standing by the printer. “Tell me what’s going on,” she said.
I shared my frustration, my weariness, and the current struggles I’m facing in my area of part-time ministry. She gave me the gift of a listening ear and let me know I wasn’t alone. I left her office a little lighter that day, knowing she was helping me carry some of my burden just by her willingness to listen and empathize.
In every interaction, an opportunity
The truth is that many (if not most) of us walk through this world with heartbreak, with invisible burdens, with situations that feel out of our control. It’s safe to assume that just about everyone we will come into contact with today is shouldering some kind of emotional burden. How then should we act?
So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. - Galatians 6:9-10 (NRSV)