‘Come for your Clothes’ on Fashion Friday

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We’re big on funerals here in Ireland.  Attending funerals is an absolute moral obligation, EVEN if you didn’t actually know the person.

Maybe you knew of them?  Maybe your mother knew them?  At the end of the day, it’s all about paying your respects. That’s what matters.

Personally I find it a bit hard. I am an emotional sponge. If people are upset, then I’m upset. But even for a self-confessed sponge, some vestige of self control is necessary. A wobbly chin is understandable. All out blubbering is not.

Anyway, all this is a prelude to what I really want to share with you today. It is of a somewhat sombre nature, hence the sombre preamble.

This little excerpt from the memoirs of my late Uncle Sean details a ritual that was enacted following the death of his mother ( my grandmother).

‘On January 13, 1937, my mother died. She was 47. I was 16. Three weeks later, it was arranged to give clothes to my mother that she would have in the next world. We gathered together in the field west of the house in the evening. My sister, Breda had a chair.  On the chair were all my mother’s clothes. We said the fifteen decades of the rosary, the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries. We knelt on the wet grass. We each in turn had to say a decade. At the end of each decade, my sister would take a garment of my mother’s clothes, shake holy water on it and call aloud. 

‘Nora Jane, Norah Jane. Come for your clothes.’ 

Breda would then lay the garments on a bush near us. We were very lonesome and Teddy, who was eight years old, cried the most. My sister helped him to say ‘Hail Mary’.

My Aunt Hanna of Clogherann was selected to wear my mother’s clothes. We watched her for the three Sundays she would have to wear them. We were all pleased after Mass on the third Sunday. Mother would now have clothes to wear in heaven. She would be naked no more. The brown habit she wore in the box was for this world only.’ 

I find this account fascinating and not only because it is a slice of family history. It’s just that I have never come across any other reference to this particular custom.

My uncle describes a dress related ritual that seems to me to be reminiscent of a much earlier time.  There are elements of pre-christian ritual  pervading what is ostensibly a christian ceremony.  Funnily enough, this mingling of the two traditions is common enough in the history of the Irish Church. I’m sure such practices were never actually sanctioned by the church, but they were overlooked and that is part of the reason why the church flourished here.

I have thought long and hard about what it might mean.

For me, it’s about transition and how to bridge the gap into the great unknown.

Faced with the loss of a loved one, the bereaved then have to sift through that person’s various belongings.  And there is no more poignant reminder of a loved one, than the clothes that they formerly wore.

I had a little mantra when it came to letting go of some of my parents belongings…things like slippers, old shoes..the sort of things that lives are cluttered with.

‘It’s just a thing…it’s not them. Losing them was the hard bit…this is easy.’

And yet it still gave me a pang of sadness to move on stuff that my mother or father had worn.

Nowadays, we tend to keep one or two mementoes and bring the rest to a charity shop. The hope being that our donation would raise a little money for a good cause.

A couple of generations ago, it was different. My Uncle Sean was chronicling a time in which people just didn’t have the same amount of stuff that we now take for granted.

In the 1930’s, kids in our area went to school barefoot. They didn’t know they were living in poverty because everyone else in the neighbourhood was doing the same thing.

In a society which has very little material wealth, people can’t afford to waste. Things have to be reused.

And yet….there is all the same angst surrounding the possessions of a loved one. The dress, or hat, or shawl worn by a woman is saturated with their essence.  They are powerful emotive items.

I completely understand that it was necessary to symbolically defuse those items in order for them to be re-appropriated.

And there you have it. This sorrowful little ceremony down in the field was a way of saying …we love you mum …we miss you…. we want to do something very practical for you in the next world. We believe we are helping to sort out your wardrobe up there in heaven.

And then, knowing that we have done our best for you, it will be OK to redistribute your clothes amongst family and friends who need these things and will value them.

And that, my friends is it for fashion Friday!

See you next week.

 

 

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44 thoughts on “‘Come for your Clothes’ on Fashion Friday

  1. I’ve never heard of that ritual, but your reasoning about why it happened makes sense. We live in different times. Around here funerals are optional, at best. And some people, much to my utter amazement, show up in jeans and t-shirts. It’s disheartening, but respect is not what it once was.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think every culture is different. I know that our nearest neighbour-England- has a totally different way of responding to a death. Because we have a small population, we tend to organise funerals one or two days after a person dies. In England, it is common to have to wait for over a week for a funeral. I do agree with you about dress. For me, jeans and t-shirts are just too casual.

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  2. Seems that would be a good business for someone. “We come along after the funeral and go through your loved one’s belongings and pack them all up.” Some people do estate sales where they just pull everything out on the lawn and sell it. I can’t believe everyone goes to funerals there even if they don’t know the person. That’s great! It must be a smallish community? There are multiple funerals here in every town every day. You’d be attending funerals every single day!

    Stephanie
    http://stephie5741.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a good idea! I’m sure there would be a lot of demand for this. It’s true, we do live in a very small community. My youngest son goes to a school with only 17 other children! You do tend to know everyone, and also their parents, grandparents…….

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  3. I suppose here, we go if we cared for the deceased and if we care for those who loved the deceased. We go in support of those people who’ve lost someone dear. Some people get rid of everything, some get rid of nothing, but this was totally new to me.
    Such an interesting story you’ve written, and written so well, it makes me curious as to what else people do.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Joey- I’ve always been sort of haunted by that story. It really gets to me- knowing that my own dad was down there dealing with that pain. It also makes me glad that I know the rest of his story. He met my mum and knew what it was to have his own family.

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  4. I find this fascinating! I have never heard for this before, but it is a very interesting custom. Thank you for posting. I too and an emotional sponge when I go to funerals. By the way, my great grandfather was full Irish. I forget exactly where he was born, but he was the first on that side of the family to come to the US from Ireland.

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  5. Thanks so much for your comment. It’s interesting that you have Irish ancestors. What was their family name? Often you can tell where people are from, by their surnames. In our area my own name, O’Shea and O’Sullivan are very common.

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  6. What a fascinating ritual. I can see that to have this interim process with the clothing would serve to ease the transition / ownership of them. The fact that the entire contents of Nora Jane’s wardrobe fitted on to a single chair gives a real feel for their value. People had very little in 1937, and nothing would be wasted would it? What a marvellous slice of family history for you to have. I’m also thinking that this family would probably go on to suffer even more hardship with the onset of war in 1939. I really enjoyed reading this post Marie.

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    1. Thanks so much Suzy. It’s interesting that you point out that Nora’s clothes fitted onto one chair. I hadn’t picked up on that detail. And, as you say, the war was just around the corner. I think by and large people here in Ireland fared better than people in England- they weren’t hit by rationing, as far as I know. The sad thing that they did have to confront was TB which was rampant at that time. Three of my dad’s siblings died of it at quite a young age.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. This is the only incidence of this particular custom, I’ve ever come across. I’d love to know if it was practiced in other parts of the country.

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  7. What a brilliant, informative and heartfelt account of a time gone by. Even though your late Uncle Sean, who was my father, was describing an old and obsolete custom, its purpose still rings true today.

    A while ago, I noticed when looking at my younger brother, that he was the image of our late father. When I said it to him he replied that he was wearing a coat that had belonged to Dad. Smiling, we agreed that Dad would be very happy to know his clothes were still being worn.

    So indeed the thought of our dearly departed being happy with us using their prized possessions can sometimes help us with the grieving process.

    Thank you Marie for another great Fashion Friday.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks so much Monica. That is so nice of you. I like writing about our parents and relations, as it is a way of keeping their memory alive. What you said about Kevin is very interesting. I think he does look like your Dad! Uncle Sean would have hated things to be wasted. I can imagine it would make him very happy to know Kevin was wearing his coat. I often think of him. He was such a big part of our lives down here. XX

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  9. I grew up in a very small community in Kentucky. it was the kind of place where everyone knew everyone else. We didn’t have internet or even cable television to clutter things up. I am very familiar with spending a great deal of time in the funeral home. Seems with all the people we knew, I was raised in either the church, the hospital, or the funeral home. Sometimes, I couldn’t tell the difference.

    Tim

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    1. Thanks Tim for taking the time to comment. What you said made me smile! Sounds exactly like here. You also wave at everybody you pass on the road in case you knew their grandparents!!

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  10. Happy to do it. When I read your comments, I had the same thought. Sounds exactly like here. Have a good evening. By the way, one of my bucket list items is to visit your country. I hope it is one that comes true.

    Tim

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  11. Thanks Jacqueline. I was interested to hear that funeral attendance is common too, in Nigeria. I was shocked that in England, our nearest neighbour, all the customs around funerals are so different than they are here in Ireland. They tend to be for families and close friends only- and my sense is that it would be bad manners to attend if you were only partially acquainted.

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  12. Wow, that is fascinating. I think in England, we really are so much more ‘stiff upper lip’ about loved ones dying and don’t have any traditions around funerals. And, like you say above, they’re just really for family and friends. Very interesting to hear how things differ around the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was also surprised about how long it takes to organise a funeral in England- here, they usually happen one to two days after the person has died. It’s probably because we have such a small population.

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  13. Rituals helping us to let go of people we never want to let go of. Lovely post causing me to think about my own family’s traditions brought across the ocean with them from Ireland so long ago. Whenever we would get a new outfit, my grandmother would always say “Put it away for best”. And my cousins and I would always ask, “Best what?” It was always sad for me, when one of the older generation died, and brand new, never-used clothes were found in their closets. I realized in those moments that sometimes “saving for best” meant “for when you were placed in the casket.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Clare. Oh, that’s sad- saving things for best. My mum always did that too. I remember buying her lots of pretty tea-towels- which she just stashed away because they were too good. I used to be like that- always saving things, but now I just try and enjoy them!

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  14. I find this funeral ritual very interesting. And can see it bring comfort to the living. In my community funerals are a big deal too. There are even professional mourners that are hired to amp the atmosphere. I am never sure how comforting this is for those going through a loss,I hope to be able to understand it someday.

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  15. What an interesting story and unusual custom!

    Like all the others before me, I’ve never heard of this custom, and I’m just as happy that it is no longer a custom to say 15 decades of the Rosary kneeling in wet grass 😉

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  16. That’s a fascinating story! It breaks my heart for your aunts and uncles who lost their mum at such a young age, too.

    Yes, clothing is so personal. It carries our very scent and that can have such an impact on the loved ones left behind. Scent memory is the strongest memory of all, I believe I read somewhere.

    I guess I’m kind of a sponge too, lol, I can’t even watch movies without feeling what the character is supposedly feeling.

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  17. Sorry for the slow response to your lovely comment, Vannessa. I just saw it now. Scent is so evocative isn’t it. Transports you back in time. I always have a box of tissues handy when I’m watching a film!

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    1. Oh please don’t worry about “slow”! It’s all good. We catch up as we can, right? 🙂 I am so far behind, myself, what with household stuff, tech stuff, kid stuff – you know how it is! Plus, you’re a business woman, too! So, zero pressure from me, I’m just glad to touch base with you whenever you’re able. 😀 *hugs*

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  18. Thank you so much for this. I was just talking with someone today about my mom’s death. I’ve worked through a lot of it, and grief has a life of its own, doesn’t it? ❤ (She died 11 years ago). Sending blessings your way Chez Shea.

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  19. Thanks for the lovely comment. It is a very hard thing to lose a parent and it certainly takes a lot of time to work through the grief. It’s been ten years since my mum passed away- and I think I will always miss her.

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