The Funeral Dress
I watched as my mother-in-law returned tearful and discouraged from her first attempt at funeral dress shopping. I had hoped so much that it would go well for her, but as she returned teary eyed and sniffling, I knew that the department store mirror had defeated her. I truly knew how she felt. I knew comforting words would not help, nor assurances that the dress she had set aside in her closet would really be fine, and it was okay to wear brown shoes with a black dress these days. She set out intentionally alone on a second attempt dress shopping. I sprinted to my phone to send her a text message to remind her that she was clothed in strength and dignity, and she smiles at the future, but then I remembered…it’s really not about the dress.
Several months prior my dad passed away. I spent a frantic night with my soon to be sister- in-law absolutely determined to find not one, but two dresses. As his death was sudden and very unexpected, I was in no state of mind, nor did I have the time when I received the news to spend the usual hour of pre-packing trying on and wishing I had watched what I had eaten so my clothes would fit. Therefore, I packed not a single item appropriate for the memorial services of my dad. My sister-in-law to be had no idea what she was in for when she agreed to spend the next few hours store hopping.
Every dress I tried on seemed as if it was meant for not this 36 year old body, but rather that of a well toned 20 year old on their way to a party. My hips were suddenly larger, my belly bloated, by rear-end extended, and my arms had grown bat wings. Let’s not forget that I had spent the day before drenched in tears and had only slept a few hours. My view of myself continued to distort as I focused on my swollen eyes and puffy cheeks. “It looks great on you!” she encouraged. But I disagreed, however after hitting all the stores in the strip mall, and returning to a few, I grabbed the dress and checked out. But I was not satisfied; I had to try again. We returned to yet another store we had already visited that evening. My family was arriving from out of town, and I had to get back. Night had come, dinner was ready, and I was out of time. In the middle of the Junior’s Department (Not even my size! Why was I looking there?) I broke down, full-fledged, on my knees, sobbing. I realized at that moment, it truly wasn’t about the dress.
I missed my dad, and I should not have had to be shopping for a dress for his funeral. I didn’t want to have to find a dress for my dad’s funeral. It wasn’t about the dress or the mass of people I knew I would see. My head spun, my throat hurt, my sis-in-law was probably frightened, but there I was, facing the reality of what I was doing. Thankfully, as I returned to my parents’ home with the entire family ready to hug me with the tragic loss of my dad, my husband scooped in his arms and said, “I will take you to Macy’s tomorrow.”
It’s not about the dress. It’s about a moment, a moment when you are going to stand up and remember someone valuable to your life; a moment where people you haven’t seen in years will be shaking your hand, passing you hugs, and showering you with condolences for someone that you completely love. It’s the moment where you want to stand proudly recognizing your relationship to the deceased. In our minds, our appearance is an honor to them, a sign to those that knew them that we made it, we’re doing well, and the one who passed on is worthy of a little extra effort. In truth, my father probably would not have cared what I wore . . . he really didn’t even like the whole memorial process, but I think he would have said I looked nice dressed in the classy slightly retro black dress. I was proud to be his daughter and I wanted it to show not only with my words, but my appearance.
All in all, it wasn’t about the dress, but about those last moments set aside for my dad. As I waited for my mother-in-law’s return from her second shopping attempt, knowing that sometimes it is easier to shop alone, to go at your own pace, to not have someone else giving you their opinion, I imagined the tears she shed silently in the dressing room for her mother, begging the Lord, “Please, show me the dress.” In reality, what she wanted to say was, “I miss you mom. I want to look nice for you. For your final earthly moment, I want you to be proud of me, because I am so proud of you.”