The purple memorial

Thank you, kind readers, for your condolences. I am back from Oregon, where my brother's memorial was a warm, heartening event.

Time was, mourners wore black or navy, with no excessive detail. Dad, a lifelong bowtie man, had one long tie, strictly for funerals. In these more informal times, a family (or the decreased) may request specific attire. The day before I left, a niece contacted me to say friends and family were asked to wear purple, my brother's favourite colour. (The photo I posted shows him in one of his many purple shirts.)

I had heard of mourners being asked to wear brights, all white, or school colours. I knew someone  who requested that her women friends wear their most lavish hats. But other than Prince, I had not thought about purple as a commemorative gesture.

I unpacked the black dress and belted downtown to see what I could find. Sweaty and anxious, I thought, Couldn't he have loved camel?

Les Montréalaises are not offered much in purple this season; I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt. After two hours I came home empty-handed but remembered with relief that I had purple shoes. (Arche "Drick", below.)

I also have a silk ikat shawl shot through with purple. That would have to do; the shawl went over a heliotrope top and long black skirt from Muriel Dombret. I would have liked a mauve manicure, but there was no time.

St. Mary's was packed with purple. My sister-in-law chose a chic plum twinset with a hint of silver metallic. Her two daughters had purple pashminas, her sons and sons-in-law, ties. Grandchildren bloomed in purple flowered dresses, a sweet lavender shrug, a mulberry turtleneck. Friends wore jackets and dresses in every hue of purple, and, on a black suit, a man had pinned an elegant fresia boutonnière.

Our younger generation were entirely accepting of everyone's choice, but the purple flourishes made them smile on a day when smiles were hard to muster.

His purple speedo (which Denny sometimes wore to cook, his solution to the problem of stained clothes) was mentioned during the eulogy, probably a first for St. Mary's.

After the service, family and close friends gathered at the home for a barbeque. Everyone changed into jeans, but kept their purple on to bring Denny into the heart of the house, as always.

Have you been to such a memorial? When your family and friends gather to remember you, might your loved ones suggest what to wear? 

In anticipation of my inevitable ceremony: my favourite colour is... black. Gray will be fine.


materfamilias said…
One year, about fifteen years ago, we went to three funerals over fewer than three months. One was for a colleague of my husband's, and the other two were both friends of a daughter's, early 20s, each killed (separately) in a car crash. Devastating to see the impact on parents whose children had grown up with ours, but also to see the collective response of the young people gathered. And at one of those funerals, we were all asked to wear bright colours and to carry brightly coloured balloons. Apparently D. had insisted, in a general discussion earlier, that she'd want people to celebrate her life that way rather than dressing in sombre colours and being sad. Of course, she was very young when she said it, and with very little experience in loss and grieving. Still, there was some wisdom in that direction, and I think that the many, many young people gathered that day found some small comfort in their collective colours, a declaration of solidarity and a determination to see the bright side. Further down the road in knowledge of death, I was still able to find it poignant and respectful and something of a balm.
Whatever the colour, whether black or bright, I think there's something about the solidarity of a group joined in loss and grief that comforts and that shields us against the moment when we have to go out on our own, still mourning. I hope the purple in your memories of your brother and of those gathered to mourn him might sustain you in these first hard months without him. xo
It's funny - for some reason the topic of funerals came up last night (but not in a morbid way) - more about how ceremony & ritual comfort us and how in the past the choice of clothing colours even clued in others to the stage we were at in mourning. But rituals can change and I have no objection to a request such as this - it was meaningful for your brother's friends & family and celebrated a unique aspect of his personality.
One friend has already stated that she wants bright colours and fireworks at her funeral. I think I'd like everyone to wear a bit of red. Being mourned is one thing - but being remembered & celebrated is another.
Take care.
I'd tell friends just to wear appropriate clothing, whatever that means for them. Certainly a lot of black and dark colours, as that is what most of them wear. Yes, a bit of red; even the student movement's felt squares, or something relating (however subtly) to environmentalism.

The most important thing is that there is good food and wine. I remember a friend's family NOT following his wishes in that respect; there were only bad church-basement sandwiches and worse coffee. Not that I minded, as I was so sad about my friend, a brilliant academic, dead of AIDS at 37 or 38... But it was yet more evidence of his strict Catholic family's disrespect of him. Wish Pope Francis would appear by a miracle and give them a good tongue-wagging, but the parents are probably dead by now.

One memorable funeral was of a relative, born in Ireland, who lived to 102 and kept her marbles to the end - she was just getting a bit deaf, which annoyed her as she was interested in everything. Sure her departure was sad, but not in the same way as a younger person's. I'm thinking of some teenage boys who died speeding in a car northeast of Mtl. The driver was only 15, and had swiped his mother's car keys.
Gretchen said…
Funerals bring such roiling debate over what is, what isn't acceptable in my circles, and I find that such a disappointment. I love when people who really do have distinct desires for their last event are honored by respecting those wishes, whether that's to follow tradition, or do something more unique. My kids have crafted elaborate plans for when they go, and have made the family promise they'll be followed - they intend to make their (some future-state) spouses promise as well. Some people find their elaboration morbid; I am more pleased that they see death, as life, part of everyone's existence, and no need to avoid the topic. They also know fully what my wishes are, and won't let others sway them into making decisions that don't match that. Grief and, too frequently, anguish at words and feelings not shared (or shared when perhaps they shouldn't have been) is too prevalent when death arrives. Knowing and honoring someone's unique spirit brings a bit of joy in such a sad time. I feel so much for your loss, Duchesse, and wish you many kind and heartfelt memories of your brother and your extended family.
Purple is a wonderful symbol to celebrate a life that must have been very special. Sending you love and comforting wisdom and memories at this painful time.
and lots of hugs,
My condolences to you Duchesse...hold those cherished memories close to your heart at this difficult time.

Your splashes of purple and those worn by others would make a lovely colourful tribute.
Funerals and celebrations of life are much more relaxed nowadays than those that I attended in the past where everyone wore was such a somber event.
I think that by adding some favourite things to the service, be it mementoes or in your bother's case, the colour purple make it more meaningful...honest and genuine reflections of the one that is being remembered and honoured.
Beth said…
I'm of the black, white, and grey persuasion, but your purple choices were elegant, chic, and appropriate, and I liked hearing about what others wore. No, I've never been asked to wear anything special to a funeral, and my black Anne Klein coatdress, bought at a thrift store, has been to many.
Leslie M said…
I love your purple Arche Dricks in purple, also my favorite color. I have the same camel.
Your had me laughing at Speedo. Funerals should be celebrations when someone has lived a long life. I hope for a wild party at my passing.
Your post reminded me of a recent article in The Seattle Times. Mad, yes, but also very sweet.

You will think fond memories of your brother every time you wear those shoes.
I laughed out loud at the speedo chef comment. Our fondly remembered chef friend didn't have that eccentricity, but similar ones.
Unknown said…
When my sister-in-law died last Dec. in Vancouver, her children asked that mourners wear her favourite colour, purple. At the funeral, there were smiles on many people's faces, as well as tears, in remembrance of a woman who lived life on her own terms, and that meant wearing purple because it made her happy. It was a comforting gesture to wear something to commemorate her life.

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