Friday, December 18, 2009

Vintage Mourning Cards

I mourn the loss of traditional mourning cards! We have mastered the art of the sympathy card, but for some reason mourning cards have fallen by the wayside. Mourning cards were handed out by the family to the community to let people know of the loss. Perhaps it's due to contemporary mode of communication - when someone passes away, word travels by phone or email (and even Facebook).

Victorian mourning cards were traditionally black, with gold or silver print. Their tone was somber and sentimental, typically decorated with birds, wheat (a symbol of resurrection), willow trees and often a cross. While these cards address all the pertinent symbolism, they sacrifice the specific spirit of the lost one. Here's the card for my my great-grandfather John Nor, who died at a young age during the 1918 Flu Epidemic:

That's why I love these vintage French mourning cards, sold by Cool Vintage. They are sweetly matter-of-fact, as if these were passports into another world:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pool of Tears

"'I wish I hadn't cried so much!' said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. 'I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears!'"

For those who grieve, the chapter "The Pool of Tears" from Alice in Wonderland expresses a familiar sentiment. It seems that we will never see our way past our tears, that we might indeed drown in our own grief. Despite her pool of tears, Alice finds her way back to shore. Alice becomes a symbol of hope when our sadness hits us like a tidal wave.

This Pool of Tears Charm Bracelet, created by Ghost Love Jewelry, is the perfect momento for those in the depths of grief. The bracelet features an image of our heroine Alice, two tear-shaped charms, and a heart-shaped lock and key. A lovely reminder to keep swimming.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Porcelain Wing Necklace

Here's a lovely porcelain wing necklace by Monkeys Always Look. The delicate porcelain wing hangs on a 20" chain. I think this would be a lovely gift for someone who's grieving, or a delicate reminder that our lost loved one is always close to our hearts.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mourning Portraits: New Orleans

Hair has a long history in its association with mourning. It's the one part of the body that can be held onto after death. It's both physically intimate, yet as a small piece of that person, it also reminds us how they are truly gone. Hair is both sentimental yet haunting, enticing yet foreboding. The Victorians used the hair of the departed to create mourning jewelry, yet the hairwork is very stylized and loses its sense of physicality. It's almost disguised.

In the series Mourning Portrait sculptor Loren Schwerd has found a way to use human hair in a series of works that evoke the loss of home - in this case, homes in New Orleans that were destroyed in the flood. The use of human hair plays on the persistence yet fragility of these homes - still there, but barely. It's all that's left. In some cases the hair spills out of the frame, refusing to be either contained or forgotten.

Here is the artist's statement:
Mourning Portrait, is a series of memorials to the communities of New Orleans that were devastated by the flooding which followed Hurricane Katrina. These commemorative objects are made from human hair extensions of the type commonly used by African-American women that I found outside the St. Claude Beauty Supply. The portraits draw on the eighteenth and nineteenth-century tradition of hairwork, in which family members or artisans would fashion the hair of the deceased into intricate jewelry and other objects as symbols of death and rebirth. Working from my own photographs I weave the hair into portraits of the vacant houses of the Ninth Ward neighborhood. By documenting private homes, I venerate the city's losses, both individual and collective.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Remembrance Necklace

This beautiful, three-piece silver necklace by Trudie Davies is one of my favorite pieces of Remembrance Jewelry. I love the way the rings stack upon one another to create a unified ring, but also open up to reveal three unique customized inscriptions. A name, a date, a heart ... almost says it all.

Friday, November 6, 2009

How To Think About Death

We do everything we can to avoid thinking about the inevitable. But eventually Death grabs us all. Will it be a slap in the face? A caress? Or a polite handshake for a life well lived? I ponder these questions constantly, and wish that I could be in London this month to attend a course called "How To Think About Death", led by writer and philosopher Mark Vernon on October 19th.

Ironically, this course is being offered by The School of Life. The first class has already filled up, so I have the feeling this will be a very popular one, and perhaps offered again. Here's the course description:

'It's not that I'm afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens.' So opined Woody Allen, capturing something of our ambivalence about the one thing about which we can all be absolutely and irrefutably certain: we will die. On the one hand, it is almost commonplace to say that suffering is what we fear, not annihilation. But on the other, anyone who has experience the death of a loved one, or faced death themselves, will know that it is no trivial incident. If our inhibitions in discussing death and the lack of preparation with which most of us first experience grief are anything to go by, we could probably describe ours as a death-denying culture. In this short, sharp lesson about the inevitable we’ll consider what philosophers and theologians, film-makers and poets have usefully had to say about death, and ask if there is really such a thing as a good death and if so how we can prepare ourselves appropriately."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Forget Me Not

Sometimes the best way to remember someone is through an object that's veiled, less literal. It's sort of like "undercover mourning." Having an item that's specifically made to help remember someone, while also being very pretty to look at, can help us avoid feeling like we are living in a shrine.

Miniature Rhino's precious needlework falls into this category. I love her work, in fact I bought a few of her constellation pieces last year. This unbleached muslim needlepoint, called Book of Hours, was part of an exhibit called Forget Me Not at Gallery Hanahou in New York City. Here's the description of the piece:

Inspired by the idea of a forget me not, a physical object that recalls a person, I made this detailed piece about remembrance. The imagery: diamond, bee, honeycomb, and knotted bow, directly relate to a quote from the book Metaphors of Memory: A history of ideas about the mind by D. Draaism. The quote below is typed on a crème paper and adhered to the reverse of the piece with photo corners....

"In books of hours miniaturists drew jewels, coins, flowers and beehives. Valuables collected like nectar from flowers to be stored in the honeycombs of our memory."
-D. Draaisma

Monday, November 2, 2009

All Souls Day

My great-grandmother, mother and grandmother. I love you!

Today I will be honoring those I've lost, but feel are with me still.

For my mother, I'll be picking up a Princess Cake and See's Candies. I'm also going to the stationery store, one of her favorite places. I will also make a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in her memory. For all of my ancestors, I'll be looking at pictures, remembering them, and imagining what they'd say if they were here with me. Unlike Dia de los Muertos, which is a communal celebration, this one will be private, just between me and my loved ones. I wish more cultures celebrated the departed the way Dia de los Muertos does - in my wildest dreams I'd be thrilled to see this happen one day. For now, it's me, my mothers and fathers, and a feast.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Prayer Shawls

For me, the beauty of crafts is the sense that they are handmade. This may be self-evident, but when you think about how someone took the time to make something with their own hands - the care invested in the item makes it that much more meaningful.

Made With Love is an organization in Baton Rouge that takes this concept to its ultimate expression. They're a crafting ministry, creating lovely handmade items with prayers and love. Their Prayer Shawls are knit for those in need of love. Here's how it's described on their website:

The shawl itself is made of soft yarn (or fabric) so the recipient can wrap up in it and feel God’s arms around him or her. Many blessings are put into every shawl. The creator begins each one with prayers and blessings for the recipient, which are continued throughout the creation of the shawl. The blessing is rippled from person to person, with both the giver and receiver feeling the unconditional embrace of a sheltering, loving God.

Whether it's grieving a loved one or healing from an illness, these shawls will be knit with prayers for your healing. What a lovely concept! I don't know how many craft ministries there are, but I hope this idea catches on.

Modern Mourning Jewelry

I find myself over and over returning to Victorian-inspired mourning jewelry. I'm not a goth or steampunk gal, it's just something about the somber mood of these pieces by Mata Hari Jewelry that I find enticing and appropriate.

I imagine this tiny heart and key charm as a piece that could given as a gift to comfort someone who's in mourning. Keep the heart, but place the key close to the one recently lost. If they are to be buried, then the key could be placed in their hand or in a pocket. If the loved one has been cremated, the key could be placed in the ashes. Someday the two will be reunited.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Remembrance Tree Papers

Trees have always been connected to our sense of life as well as loss. For the Victorians, specific trees had specific messages, from the grief of the weeping willow to the weathered yet resilient oak. Throughout the generations and across cultures, the tree represents the wellspring of life.

That’s why Remembrance Tree Papers seems like such a timeless and inspired concept. This company creates hand-crafted memorial items out of 100% recycled paper – from Memorial Bookmarks, Guest Registers and Service Invitations. Preserving the life of trees while remembering the life we’ve lost.

My favorite item is the Thank You Card, which comes with embedded wildflower seeds. The card can be planted, bringing forth flowers, a simple reminder of the love and sympathy that sustains us. What a lovely idea!

When in mourning, it’s important to be reminded of regeneration. In this spirit, Remembrance Tree Papers (along with Trees for the Future) will plant a tree in honor of your loved one when you order their memorial stationery products. It’s a gesture that benefits the environment and future generations.

"In Memory" Necklaces

Losing a child to miscarriage can be a tremendous loss. Yet I think that as a culture, we have not adequately grasped the language to express this kind of grief. Many people carry it as a secret anguish, which only heightens the heartache.

This "In Memory" Necklace created by Catherine Marissa is a touching way to acknowledge that loss of a baby. As the artist says, "When I miscarried my twins, I felt a need to have a special reminder of the little people I didn't have a chance to meet. I wanted something simple and personal that I could wear with anything. Thus, the "In Memory" pendant was created."

This pendant can also be personalized for a pet. A paw print or a heart can replace the central symbol. I think this is a charming way to signify remembrance.

Although these Itty Bitty Raincloud Studs (also by Catherine Marissa) aren't specific to grief, I think they are a charming reminder of the clouds of grief we sometimes face, and how "this too shall pass." A kind of contemporary version of the Half-Mourning Period in Victorian grieving rituals.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Time Passes Ring

When we are grieving, time seems so unkind. It feels as if we will never move beyond, as if time has indeed stopped not just for those we've lost, but for ourselves as well. It's important to remember though that time does move, even if we can't comprehend it. Things will get better.

This "Time Passes" ring by Brighid's Forge is a gentle reminder that things will get better. It's a heavy ring, perhaps an appropriate piece to give to a father, brother, or any man who's lost someone - a more masculine version of mourning jewelry. This piece is sterling silver with oxidized letters, and you can request a custom size from the seller.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sympathy Print

I am quite fond of this Sympathy Print I'm So Sorry For Your Loss by Scottish artist Suzanne Wolcott. At 8" x 10", it's more than a card. The image conveys a sense of sorrow, avoiding those anxious words of encouragement when what we really need is to just be sad and grieve.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Honestly ...

Here's a sympathy card that gets right to the point.

Many Tears Remembrance Necklace

Words are always so hard to find when we want to convey our sympathy. Here's a meaningful option - a customized, sterling silver Many Tears Remembrance Necklace by Munchkin Mama. Although there are many hand-stamped necklaces out there, this one is special because of the briolet beads, a "cluster of tears" that discreetly yet beautifully symbolize grief.

This necklace will last longer than a sympathy card, and at $20, it's also very reasonable. Instead of stumbling to find the right words, convey all of your love with this simple yet significant gesture. By the way, mention this blog to Munchkin Mama and receive and additional 10% off!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Remembrance Wreaths

Wreaths and remembrance have a long history. From ancient Rome to Scandinavian traditions, wreaths made from hearty plants symbolize strength and perseverance. According to Wikipedia, wreaths made of pine, holly or yew convey immortality, while cedar sends a message of healing. In Northern European countries, wreaths made from firs represent remembrance of those who have passed.

And while laurel leaves and fir needles may fade and fall, the leaves from books will never leave a wreath. Simple Joys Paperie creates gorgeous paper wreaths, perhaps the perfect everlasting sentiment. These wreaths are elegantly constructed from antique book leaves. As these items are made to order, perhaps a favorite book could be repurposed as an elegant, custom order wreath.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Memory Blankets

This blog is dedicated to remembering all of those who mean something to us. I hope to promote meaningful repurposing - taking items that have been outgrown, and creating something new that will help us remember.

I've previously posted on repurposing mens' shirts to become cute dresses for girls, redesigning heritage jewelry, and other projects that keep those cherished items in close reach. Petit Amour creates custom Memory Blankets out of baby clothing, a perfect solution to giving new life to those precious little jumpers, shirts and dresses that are so hard to give up. Just send the clothing to Petit Amour, and you'll receive in return a gorgeous memory blanket. I absolutely love this idea, and hope that it catches on!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Haute Hearse

The sudden sight of a hearse is enough to cast a shadow on even the brightest day. It's a motorized memento mori, interrupting our daily lives with a grim glimpse of our ultimate destination. Yet with so many people being cremated these days, the hearse is quickly becoming a relic.

Not to worry, here are some Etsy artists who are keeping the has-been hearse alive, at least in spirit.

Also from Pillbox Designs, here's a Landau "S" bar vinyl decal to for your car, or even your laptop.

Hearse necklace by Graphic Maniac

Notecards by The Rasilisk