Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Putting off my blacks

Two weeks ago Friday, I put off my blacks. That’s an old-fashioned phrase for an old-fashioned gesture, and it’s taken me a while to write about it because it’s taken me a while to work through what I feel and think about it.

After Lisa died, I wore black almost without thinking. It seemed the right thing to do, it suited my mood and my sorrow and it was a way of expressing those feelings without demanding that anybody else do anything about them. It was, I guess, a way of literally putting them outside myself: wearing my grief on my sleeve. After a week, I realized that I needed a ritual of mourning, something I could do for myself, and I knew almost immediately that I would continue wearing black. I would wear something black, not all black because I simply couldn’t afford that, but some major piece of black clothing, every day, and I would do it for a year and a day.

“A year and a day.” It’s an archaic phrase, too, and went with what felt like an archaic gesture. I found myself thinking of the folk song called “The Unquiet Grave” (or “The Restless Dead”), the first verse running through my mind over and over:

I’ll do as much for my true love
As any lover may
I’ll sit and mourn upon her grave
A twelvemonth and a day

In the rest of the song, the true love’s ghost rises from the grave to tell the lover to cut it out, but I wasn’t ready for that part yet.

So for a year and a day, I wore black. I bought a lot of black t-shirts, and was really glad that my warmest dog-walking pullover is black. Every day as I got dressed, I found some piece of black clothing, and thought of Lisa, and felt connected and comforted by the ritual.

And then, all of a sudden, it was May. And it was time to put off the black.

I was, I thought, ready. And yet it was hard to let go of the ritual, even though I was starting to yearn for color. I thought about keeping it going for a while longer, and I thought some more about “The Unquiet Grave,” with its verses about grief keeping the dead from resting, and the living, too, and I decided that it was, indeed, time.

So on the 4th of May, which would have been our 28th anniversary, I put on a bright blue shirt and blue jeans, and not even my socks or my shoes were black. And I wore color for the next few days, and even bought a new green shirt, a springtime, new-leaf green. It’s not that I won’t wear black again - both my good skirts are black, and I’ve still got too many black t-shirts to give them up entirely - but the meaning is different. It’s no longer a gesture, a ritual; I remember Lisa at different times and in different ways. I’m glad, so glad, that I did it, that I literally put my grief on my back every day, that I touched it and planned it and wore it until I wore it out, or at least wore it down. And I’m glad, too, that I reached the ritual’s end. I’ve put off my blacks. I will never entirely put off my grief, but it has changed, and I have changed with it. I am grateful.


At 11:15 AM, Blogger Diane in Chico said...

A heart ache is like any other muscle pull. It takes forever to heal, and every once in a while, with decreasing frequency, you can still feel the ache.

I'm glad you found something personal to do with a ritual attached. Now that it's time to put of your blacks, you can begin to move on, a little at a time.

Diane in Chico, CA

At 2:13 PM, Blogger M-H said...

Change is the constant, and I'm glad you're moving in a direction and at a speed that you're comfortable with.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Melissa Barton said...

I felt myself welling up as I read this. I suppose it's good that you set a specific time for your ritual so that you could commit to it and then let go.

Thinkin of you,
Melissa B

At 10:22 PM, Blogger Dharma said...

Your writing moves so often and so hard that I must read your writing aloud to my partner.

What a beautiful telling of your grief process.

At 11:52 AM, Blogger anne said...

Have been thinking about you over the last year and a day... take good care x

At 8:37 PM, Blogger edired said...

Holding on and letting go are much the same when you share a life . Life is a journey without a destination . Your sharing makes the trip better for everyone who reads your words . Wish you well

At 11:16 PM, Blogger miriam said...

I'm shocked. The last time I communicated with you was in 2003 and I deeply envied you and Lisa. I had no idea what happened a year ago. I'm truly sorry.

My reason for finally contacting you again, being so amazingly slack and forgetful, is to thank you for the interview you gave us for SpacedOut GLBT SF club all that time ago. Immediately it was published in that issue I moved a couple of thousand kilometers to be near my family, and Geoff (with whom I was co-editor) was admitted for heart surgery (and is waiting for still more heart surgery now). So with all the upheavals in our lives (nothing compared to what you and Lisa went through, poor dears) I never got around to thanking you. It seems I only ever remembered when offline.

The interview is still online at
in what was the biggest issue ever for the club.

I'll always keep a copy of the interview on my site at
just in case the club and its site fold one day.

At 2:29 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Your description of the mourning clothes reminded me of a Marjorie Allingham quote, from _The Tiger in the Smoke_, that helped me after the deaths of my parents a few years ago.

"Mourning is not forgetting . . . It is an undoing. Every minute tie has to be untied and something permanent and valuable recovered and assimilated from the knot. The end is gain, of course. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be made strong, in fact. But the process is like all other human births, painful and long and dangerous."

At 10:47 PM, Blogger Elaine said...

Thank you for sharing your heart with us. My mother died 10 years ago of breast cancer that ended up in her brain. My father and I cared for her at home until the end. It was devastating. She never got to meet my wonderful partner of 7 years, or our 2 children. She never got to see me finally have success in my career after a long struggle.

As long as it has been, reading of your partner's illness and death-and of your grief since, brings it all back to me afresh. It took a year - more like a year and a half- before I was ready to move on. I am still...frustrated is not the word...mad? that she isn't around to share things with - and although I was close to my mother it was a conflicted relationship. I can't imagine the loss of a partner (although that can be conflicted, too!)

The yearning never goes away. It just isn't as pressing after awhile - it just surges up at the most ridicuous times - look for those. They're good for a moment of semi-levity amidst the pain. I'm glad you were able to put away your blacks. Take care of yourself.

Elaine in Fort Worth, TX


Post a Comment

<< Home