In the days of old, and in other cultures even today, black garb and a veil (in a woman’s case) was the silent way to tell people, “I lost a part of myself. I need care and gentleness and grace.” The black veil served as the visible “wheelchair or crutches” for the bereaved. When people would see it, they would instinctively know to treat the wearer gingerly with care and compassion, to give her a “pass” when she said something a little off or behaved in a way that was not normal for her—a “pass” that would be a reminder: it’s the grief talking; the wounds making themselves known to the world…
Sometimes I wonder, where was my black veil two years ago when my husband died? As a widow in 2016 America, there is no way to let people know someone is hurting in such a profound way that their time has been frozen. Since there is no tangible, visible way to remind them, other people’s minds slide from remembering your pain, onto their lives that continue to move forward. A few months after my husband’s death the support system I had during his illness slowly dissipated. The gaping, seeping wounds from his death and the way he died were still fresh and raw. This pain turned inward and rumbled around in my head day in and day out, an inward pain that could only be felt by me and me alone because, while many people loved my husband, we all loved him in a different way and therefore grieved him in a different way. A few months after the memorial service it felt like the pain ruptured full-force, but it felt as if that pain was forgotten by others while I was only just beginning to feel it. My grief was a suffocated scream that buried itself deep within and stayed put, all the while I begged for it to be let loose. People would ask, “How are you?” and I would reply “Ok,” and they would reply, “Oh that’s so good to hear!” Errrr…that’s not what I meant. Every griever knows “OK” really translates to, “I’m really not OK, but if I say that, you’ll get weird and try to say something helpful, but nothing anyone could say would be helpful, because I’m just not OK…” In our hurried society, people inadvertently want you to be better in their time because, in some subconscious way, it’s more comfortable for them to think you’re better than to know you’re not.
In our hurried society, people inadvertently want you to be better in their time because, in some subconscious way, it’s more comfortable for them to think you’re better than to know you’re not.
It’s not their fault—the “everyone else” grievers often refer to. When you’re grieving it does inevitably turn into “you” and “everyone else”…at least for a time. And you walk through life with a terrible pain and an invisible limp no one can see, and no one can empathize because they see you standing up straight, getting out of bed and doing the “daily duties,”—therefore you must be OK, right? So you watch yourself in slow motion while the world speeds up, aching for someone to notice that you’re barely crawling through every minute of every day and to come alongside you–sometimes to hold you steady, sometimes to just crawl with you.
How I wish that the black veil was still commonplace. I wish the mourning clothes were an accepted symbol of a normal, yet oftentimes unbearable season of life. Not something to be covered up, which is the irony of the veil, but to shout silently to people, “I don’t need Zoloft, I don’t need to ‘DO something about my depression,’ I don’t need to ‘just get out there and date,’ and I don’t need a drink…I NEED to miss my husband, I NEED permission to feel how I feel, I NEED you to know I’m hurting, I NEED you to know I’m not OK.” The black veil might head off the conversations that used to paralyze me: “Oh where are the kids’ dad. Is he still in the picture? Was it amicable?” (in assumption that no dad in the picture meant divorce) or in the doctor’s office small-talk from the nurse, “Are you planning on having more children?” “Are you pregnant?” or marking the dreaded “widowed” box on the questionnaire. Maybe the bank tellers and grocery store clerks would better understand why you’re suddenly a weeping mess cashing a check or buying Cheerios. Maybe it would help remind people I’m not crazy or depressed, but that I’m experiencing a very real pain that emerged from the loss of a person who was slowly leaving this earth in the hell that is cancer, and then, one day, his steps halted and no longer touched this ground. No longer here to touch, to feel, to embrace, to disappoint or elate, no longer a lover, no longer the soft tender voice to bring me down to earth or the strong commanding encouragement to pick me up from crumbling… just a vast nothingness. His absence fills to overflowing. Maybe the black veil would help to say all these things…but maybe not.
Not something to be covered up, which is the irony of the veil, but to shout silently to people, “I don’t need Zoloft, I don’t need to ‘DO something about my depression,’ I don’t need to ‘just get out there and date,’ and I don’t need a drink…I NEED to miss my husband, I NEED permission to feel how I feel, I NEED you to know I’m hurting, I NEED you to know I’m not OK.”
I know it’s not going to make a comeback as the latest fashion statement—there’s nothing glamorous about grief, but maybe, just maybe, it would have been a little reminder to even myself that these wounds, though invisible, are to be felt and known. It’s been an arduous, inward journey, this grief, and I don’t feel like I need the world to know my pain quite so much anymore, but that doesn’t mean my scars don’t show. In a quiet way, maybe wearing my scars in vulnerability and strength won’t be such a reminder to myself or anyone else of my pain, but instead of the healing that followed.