In my culture, we dress loss in black. Black is the color of death but also the coat we lay gently over the hurting heart and body. It is love turned to pain. It is my people’s chromatic acknowledgement to the spiritual world that Death took another one from us. A pact of allegiance to the one gone that they will be remembered among the living every day of the following year. To the community, a black dressed mourner walks with her heart attached to the dead, while the feet tread among the living. Black exposes a loss that pains the griever, a magnifying glass placed on the hurting organ. To leave loss naked in my culture is a dishonor to the dead. It must be coated. And coated in black, nonetheless.
I wore my black sheer voile dress at the funeral last year. I bought it a few days before. Walking towards the cashier to pay for it felt wrong and deeply violating of all my humanity. I turned numb and silent. I’m buying it for my sister’s funeral. I hate it. I don’t want it. But I need it to signal to my world that I am mourning. And mourning I must in black.
The wind played softly with my dress and hair on the day of her funeral. The black paled in comparison with the blue sky, yellow sun, and green budding vegetation. I stood inert in black, like a cold statue, erecting my blackness as if to stand out in a universe where color is overtaking the eye. For life was never meant to be monochromatic, isn’t it? Why should grief be covered in one color, alone? Can’t we wale in red? Or pink? Or yellow?
I took the black off immediately after the funeral. Instead of dressing grief in black, I put it in words, in silence, in tears, in prayers. My need to acknowledge and voice the loss was far greater than the need to dress it up in black. I told it over and over again to myself, my people, acquaintances, and strangers alike. I didn’t need bolts of black fabric to unravel it to the world: I used my vocalized breath to shout it in bilingual sounds of English and Romanian.
A year after her passing, my grief has no particular covering, nor any one color still. Instead of giving it a coat and a color, God has sown it into the hem of a robe He’s been working on for my life. A robe that includes more than grief, loss, and broken hearts. It’s the glorious robe washed by the blood of Christ and printed with the cruciform patterns of His love. A robe that has the smell and shape of Christ, decorated with jewels of faith, pain, and joy all over it. A robe prepared for the redeemed Bride of Christ and heavenly courts. A robe made of all the days of my life tethered perfectly to the life and death of my Messiah.
The robe changes colors and yet the same Hand works at it patiently. I see mismatched patches on my coat, He sees a continuous, majestic robe made new and full, beautiful and sanctified. My days, as awkward and imperfect as they look to me, are not standing alone, hopeless, unfinished. The Maker of my coat lines them up in eternal lines of messianic time of no ends but only new beginnings. And no fray is wasted.
The better way to dress grief is to dress oneself in Christ first. In Christ, grief is grown and reshaped in hopeful faith every day. It is added to the pattern of the cross, serving eternal purposes in our present days. Jesus helps me peel my eyes from intently focusing on this year’s loss, and moving them swiftly and confidently to the gaze of Heaven. In Christ, my grief awaits my eternal home where death is no more and colors abound everywhere we look. And the graves and funerals are replaced by forever banquets of divine fellowship of redeemed peoples in glorious homes.