Wedding Clothes and Funeral Dresses

3:30:00 PM

Four years ago, I learnt something new: How to organise a wedding. Our eldest daughter Felicity was marrying her fiancé, Graham in our parish.

First, we booked the church and the priest, and then our thoughts turned to clothes. Felicity found her dream wedding dress easily and soon we’d made decisions about both the bridesmaids’ and flower girls’ dresses. The men’s suits were easy. All I had to do was find a suitable mother-of-the-bride outfit.

I headed into my wardrobe, had a quick look at the garments hanging there, and decided I could probably find something to wear to the wedding without buying anything new. I tried on various combinations of skirts and shirts, did a few fashion parades for my daughters, and then made a final selection. The chosen outfit didn’t feel quite right, but I thought it would do.

Then the week before the wedding, I found an unusual black/brown designer shirt on sale for half price and I knew I’d found the perfect outfit. I imagined myself in my wedding clothes and I smiled. I knew I’d feel just right on the day my eldest child got married.

Why are clothes so important? Why do they have such a big impact on our feelings?

The year my son Thomas died, I learnt something new: How to organise a funeral. I didn’t want to know how to do this, but I had no choice.

We always knew there was a possibility our baby would die after birth. The doctors didn’t give him much chance of surviving. We could have prepared for his death months before he was born. But we didn’t. I was reluctant to find out about funerals, graves, coffins, and wakes. I certainly didn’t want to think about the clothes I might wear on a day when we could be burying our son. I knew if I imagined myself in a particular dress by the side of an open grave on a cool November day, I would have to admit our baby was probably going to die. And I couldn’t do that. How could I survive the rest of the pregnancy without hope?

Thomas was born, and he did die, and we arranged his funeral for exactly a week after his birth. Friends kindly stepped in and organised the order of service for the funeral Mass, the music, and the food for the wake. After deciding upon such things as Thomas’ coffin and his burial site, all we had to do was make sure we had suitable clothes.

What does one wear to a funeral? I’d never been to one before. Smart clothes? Black clothes? Is black suitable for the funeral of a baby? Should children be dressed in black? Why aren’t we taught such things? But do we really want to be prepared just in case?

We decided on pretty dresses for the girls and I bought Imogen her Thomas dress. The boys had their Sunday-best trousers and shirts. Andy had his business suit. But me? I looked through my wardrobe to see if I could find something suitable without going shopping, but I didn’t have anything sombre enough that fitted my post-pregnancy body.

I considered wearing a maternity dress. But only for a moment. I couldn’t really bear the thought of wearing a dress that had last covered both Thomas and me. Does that sound silly? I didn’t want to go to the funeral thinking, “Thomas, only a few days ago you were here safe under this dress with me, and now you are out there, soon to be buried.” I didn’t want to be alone in my maternity dress that had been designed for two.

And so I went shopping. I prayed I’d find a funeral dress quickly and easily. Hanging on the rack in our local St Vincent de Paul shop, I found a high-waisted navy blue dress that seemed perfect.

On the day of Thomas’ funeral, I was dressed appropriately. But although I looked right, I didn’t feel that way at all. I didn't really want to wear that dark loose-waisted dress because it was a funeral dress. I wasn't supposed to be at a funeral. Thomas wasn't supposed to be dead. He should have been in my arms warm and alive.

The year after Thomas died, my dear friend, C asked Andy and me to be Godparents to her baby daughter. I was pregnant with Sophie at the time, and with thoughts of hiding my slightly expanded stomach, I wore the navy blue high-waisted dress to the baptism. I knew as soon as we arrived at the church that I’d made the wrong choice.

At the baptism, C handed me her daughter as the priest was about to baptise her. And at that moment, tears rose up from deep within me and began rolling down my face. Even though I didn’t want to spoil the celebration, I couldn’t stop sobbing. I stood by the baptismal font aware that I was wearing the same navy blue dress I’d worn at the funeral of my baby. Another baby was in my arms and a second growing within me, but they didn’t take away the pain of losing Thomas.

I can now smile when I think back to the day of the baptism. What did the priest think of the Godmother, who was crying as if her heart were breaking? We were at a baptism, not a funeral. Of course, he didn't know I was wearing a funeral dress.

I haven’t worn my mother-of-the-bride outfit since the day my daughter was married. I still have that unusual shirt, but I know if I put it on, I will feel like I’m off to a wedding. It seems rather too grand to wear on an ordinary occasion. I sometimes look at that shirt and think of how beautiful we all looked on that perfect wedding day, and I smile as all the happy memories come flooding back.

I never again wore that navy blue high-waisted dress. I knew that if I put it on, I'd feel like I was off to a funeral. I didn't even want to look at it. So unlike my designer shirt, it’s no longer hanging in my wardrobe. Years ago, I rolled it up and placed it in a bag destined for our St Vincent de Paul shop. That seemingly perfect dress ended up back where it started.

I discovered that funeral dresses are necessary dresses. They can be smart, even beautiful. But, unlike wedding clothes, how can they ever be perfect?

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