Outfits for a Funeral

October 9, 2020

After someone you love dies, you have no time to process or digest your new reality. Instead you are inundated with responsibility and choices. 

Tasks you’d rather avoid. 

Choices you’d rather not make.

Decisions and responsibility you never wanted. 

From caskets, to hymns, to dates and times and flowers. Your schedule is suddenly filled with harsh planning, and no time to catch your breath. 

I remember being in my hometown the day after my mother passed, living out of a hotel room, while out-of-state guests occupied our family home. Overwhelmed, disoriented, and suddenly concerned that we had nothing to wear. We hadn’t brought acceptable clothes for an occasion such as the one we found ourselves in.

Desperately trying to escape responsibility, reality, and choices I hopped in the car with my father and headed towards the nearest mall. Not realizing this adventure would provide all the things I was trying to run from. Pain, the reality of a funeral, and the acknowledgement of the death of my mother. 

I had three people to buy for. Three choices to make, three outfits to purchase, except I couldn’t. I just stood there like some kind of mannequin, unable to move or express anything except confusion and disbelief. How can you pick out an outfit for an event you haven’t even accepted as reality?

How do you pick an outfit for your mother’s funeral? What is the appropriate attire for your children to wear as they bury their grandmother? What is the appropriate garment to say goodbye forever? 

I get why people choose black. It’s the color that resembles darkness and ache. The color that mirrors death and absence. It’s the color that looks the way grief feels. It lacks joy and vibrance. It’s plain, and harsh, and has a reputation as the color for the mourning. 

I grabbed the only black dress in my size and draped it across my arm as I headed to the children’s section. There was no black in the children’s section. Rightfully so, as I couldn’t envision my tiny kiddos wearing a color that exuded heartbreak. They already felt it, they didn’t need to look it too. 

My dad finds me emotionally broken in-between fancy dresses and button-down shirts. As I pace back and forth, tears fill my eyes. Without saying a word, he knows my dilemma. He knows the cloudiness of my soul. He knows my heartbreak and my inability to accept the truth, as well as choose outfits that solidify the finality of it all. 

He gracefully picks up a dress, white lace with beautiful lavender accents, my mother’s favorite color. It feels right to decorate my children in the colors that she loved. I add the dress with mine, grab a close-by toddler suit for my son, and head to the counter.

Choices made, moving on and pressing forward. Except it wasn’t as simple as that. The instant grief enters your life, simplicity becomes a distant companion. 

The beautiful older saleswomen takes the outfits and with a simple grin and carefree tone she smiles and says, “Looks like you all are going places!” 

Instant pain. Instant emotion. Instant internal destruction. Instant grief. 

Through tears I tell her they are for my mother’s funeral. I can tell immediately she regrets her question. She can tell my pain is fresh. She can see the heartbreak seeping from my eyes and spilling from my heart. 

“These are beautiful choices”, she whispers through glossy eyes. “I am so sorry for your loss.” 

And I believe her. 

I can feel her sincerity. 

And in that moment, I learned that’s how you choose outfits for a funeral. Or carry on with grief. Or keep going through heartache. A little bit of autopilot, a little bit of pain, and a little bit of encouragement, in this case from a stranger. 

That day I also learned, it doesn’t matter what you wear to a funeral, for you’ll be fully clothed with grief. Grief and love. Every. Single. Day. Forever.

xox, Chels

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Chelsea Ohlemiller

Chelsea Ohlemiller

A thirty-something wife, mother and educator who has Indiana roots and a passionate spirit. Chelsea is a sappy romantic, coffee junkie, book collector, and person who wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s sarcastic, full of jokes, full of tears, and enjoys writing most when life gets messy or complicated. In 2017, Chelsea's mother passed away. Through her grief journey, she decided to take her mother’s advice and share her writing with the world. One day she gained the courage to honor her mother's wishes and write. It turned out to be one of the best decisions she's ever made.

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