This post was originally shared on January 20, 2015.
Before you read another word, check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art "Death Becomes Her" exhibit! It closes February 1st, and is absolutely phenomenal! As many of the exhibits at the museum, especially in the Anna Wintour Costume Institute, it is astounding what brilliant minds come together to collaborate such fascinating exhibits. I am constantly blown away by the technical quality of the garments and the rich history behind each piece, showcasing the lives of the women who wore them in various decades of mourning throughout Europe and Early America. Please, check out the exhibit before it closes! I'm not a usual museum aficionado, but am always inspired and enthused after visiting the Costume Institute.
That being said, I was fascinated to learn that HRH Queen Victoria, after the passing of her husband, Prince Albert in 1861, remained in mourning clothes until the day she died, some forty years later. Upon further research, there are several cultures today that carry along a similar tradition of wearing black or color specific garbs for a year after the death of an immediate family member.
Naturally, while trying to absorb every inch of each dress, detail, pattern, layering, accessories, I couldn't help but be haunted by a dress that lives in my closet, a dress I have only worn once, and yet a dress I can not seem to let go of. This dress, a beautifully, feminine black lace, sheer sleeves with a high neck, low back that comes together with a striking gold zipper just above my knees, and hugs in all the right places, as if made specifically for me. A dress that in my mind, could be worn as the "little black dress" to an evening cocktail party with black Louboutins, or accented with a pair of bright pink flats, a strand of pearls and a showy clutch. A dress I will never wear again.
A winter day, with a crisp chill in the air and clouds covering any sign of the sun, I sat in the back seat of my parents SUV, rereading my lines over and over again. Words I've read before, words I've heard since I was a little girl and were plastered in several forms amidst my late grandparent's house, my grandmother's favorite verse from the book she held so dear. Then, in the moment in the back seat of the car, they were just words, with no meaning or heartbeat, words I would read just a few minutes later that would change my life.
As I stood up and made my way to the front of the congregation in my perfect, black dress, I took a breath. She was gone... My words needed to be clear, strong, full of meaning so even she could hear me in whatever land she was in. I turned around, looked for comfort from my family and read,
With tears on the brim of my eyes, I slowly made it back to my seat. Fighting every ounce of courage, the tears won and sorrow overcame me. The words I've known for years seemed to be etched into my heart, slowly letting her death become me.
Years too soon and miles to go, my aunt was taken from this world after a vicious battle that stole her body and soul. I know, soon, like the many others who's voices I wish I could still hold on to, hers will be a faded memory. Like the moments when I smell my grandmother's perfume on someone new, I'll smile as it brings me back to our lives before. That dress will continue to hang in the back of the closet covered in plastic, preserved, like her memory in my brain. Memories of laughter, joy and love that I will carry forever.
While the mourning may last a lifetime, we must continue on with the strength of those we've loved and lost, with their memories unwavering love, we must keep living. Love can overcome death, love never fails.