what to wear when you say goodbye

When someone we are close to dies, our hearts follow a protocol. We grieve. And while the process may look different for everyone, the ache of loss is the same. We hurt, we miss, we mourn.

When someone we don't know or aren't close to dies, we simply keep living. It's but a small blip on our radar. We may think of the family or take a meal but our hearts remain intact and our word keeps spinning. 

Then there is an entirely different category. It's when someone we have a broken relationship with, someone who has hurt us, or someone we long for connection with dies. When this happens, there is no protocol. There is no casserole or missing. It is a strange mix of mourning what could have been, continuing on with day to day life, and thinking maybe we should be feeling more.

In the first two and a half months of this year, I've experienced all three. 

As I prepped for each funeral, I wondered, what do you wear when you say goodbye?

The first funeral of the year was for my Aunt Billie, a beloved matriarch of our family. She was actually my great-grandmother's sister so more of a great great aunt, which describes her perfectly. I knew I had to wear the baby carrier (I was taking my six week old with me) and I knew she loved maroon and her family being all together. I picked out pieces carefully and took special care in my appearance. It was a funeral of happy grief, if that makes sense. We truly celebrated her life and legacy. 

A few weeks later, I had visited someone who was dying. They had hurt me, and the people I loved, more times than I could count. I went out of support, knowing it was the right thing to do. But as I searched my closet, I had no idea what you are supposed to wear in a situation like that. In the end, I settled on comforting and comfortable items, anchoring pieces that would be steady in a day of roller coaster emotions. 

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There isn't a grand thought in this writing, no nugget of wisdom. It's simply an observation that grief of any kind is a challenge. That the hurt of loss is actually preferable to the numbness of loosing someone who has hurt. That traveling to multiple funerals with a baby is as impractical as it sounds and there are no dark, funeral appropriate clothes for baby girls. And that above all else, I still have no idea what to wear when you say goodbye.

But, I will tell you this. I hope at my funeral, people are picking their outfits based on what I love. That they will be where the women wear amazing heels and red lipstick and everyone hugs and laughs and reminisces. I hope no one has to steel themselves to come in or wonder if they are feeling enough because the void that is left is numb. I hope they felt known and loved, that our relationship was rich, and that they smile when they finally land on an outfit. 

As we age, funerals are a fact of life. And while I didn't expect to attend multiple funerals weeks after delivering life, it somehow helped to have a little babe to hold. I'm still processing, searching through my heart to see if I've missed anything or if the majority of the grieving is done. I'm praying for wisdom and release and tons of peace for myself and everyone impacted. I'm growing up. I'm continuing the day to day. And I'm hoping to put away my dark dresses for a few months. 

There is no simple answer, no two circumstances that are the same. But I'm learning that it matters less what you wear when you say goodbye and more what you wear when you are here. So I'm wearing intentionality, honesty, vulnerability, and heaps of love. I'm all in with my people. Because if we have to grieve in this life, I want to grieve the loss of beautiful relationships, not wonder if it could have been better. 

So let's dress ourselves with purpose and invest. That way, when it comes to saying goodbye, we get the honor of wearing our hearts on our sleeves as we celebrate the richness of being known. 

One last note about my Aunt Billie- she is probably the only eighty year old woman to have Aggie Athletics and a secret chocolate pie recipe mentioned multiple times at her funeral. What a legacy.  

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Meredith Harper