Monday, March 30, 2009

Mourning Quilts

From scraps of a loved one's clothing ...

Comes beautiful African American Mourning quilt, dated early 1900's. Offered by Ebay seller Sabine Moon.

For more on the history of Mourning Quilts, click here and here.

Memory Silhouettes

I have always loved silhouettes. As portraits they are abstract yet surprisingly intimate. With silhouettes, I find myself noticing the neglected - a curvature of a chin, the sweep of an eyelash. The subtleties we took for granted are suddenly realized.

(According to Wikipedia, Etienne de Silhouette was a French finance minister during a severe credit crisis (sound familiar?) He created cut paper portraits as an alternative to expensive and frivolous portraitures. Silhouettes were popular from 1790 until 1840, when photography took over as a primary means of remembering.)

Etsy's Diffractionfiber creates elegant sewn silhouettes. Just send a picture of someone in profile (strange how we neglect this angle, even with the abundance of photography!) You can order a brooch made from eco-friendly felt and cloth, or a pillow.

Le Papier Studio also creates customized silhouettes as group portraits, as well as these lovely lockets.

This is the essence of memory at its best, and I hope that we all take the time to make silhouettes of those we love while we can.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Teddy Bear Urns

One of the most unfortunate design flaws of traditional urns is that they are not meant to be touched. Stoic and solid, they appear to be more like monuments than something you'd want to cradle in your arms. But Hanna Bruce Bears, a "teddy bear doctor" located in Pennsylvania, has come up with a touching (literally!) solution.

Heart and Soul Bears are stuffed animals that contain the ashes of a loved one. If you have a special teddy bear, you can send it to Hanna, or she will provide the bear. The ashes are placed in a sealed container and carefully sewn into the animal. One child lost a father, yet with a small amount of ashes in his favorite bear, he can "hug" his father anytime. What a wonderful and compassionate concept!

For more information, visit or contact Hanna at 877-723-2763.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Exuberance of Life

Funny, I find myself returning to repurposed items intended for children. Remembering those who've passed seems like the furthest thing from a child's mind, yet their very existence, their newness in this world seems to be the best way to remember those who have just left it. I think of the iconic Stork that supposedly brings us babies, and wonder if there's a connection to the birds who represent the souls of those who have passed.

I don't mean this to be morbid, or to cast a dark shadow on those brightest creatures in our lives. Yet I'm moved by any handmade or repurposed item that somehow brings the generations closer. For now, I've found Paisley and Posies's boutique on Etsy, and the exuberance of these images move me. These handmade beanies, tutus and other custom items contribute a portion of the proceeds to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. It's for a good cause, and a reminder of how precious life is.

Mourning Revived

French designer Gisele Ganne is reviving the Victorian trend of wearing grief on your sleeve. Literally.

I find these elegant, humorous, and a bit frightening.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Eco Sympathy Flowers

Let's face it, most sympathy bouquets are uninspired. They tend to look pre-fab and plastic - I'm sure most people who receive them are relieved when it's time to finally through them out. Organic Bouquet offers some lovely organic-certified arrangements that are simple, heartfelt and environmentally friendly. This elegant arrangement of Calla Lilies, Crown Majesty Roses, or this Rosemary Wreath are a welcome alternative to traditional sympathy arrangements.

Casket Furniture

Caskets are sooooooo incredibly expensive. Why not build your own? In fact, why not build your own, paint it as a piece of furniture, and keep it as a treasure chest until the time comes? Arkwood Caskets offers "some assembly required" caskets that are meant to be part of your life before they're part of your death.

A treasure chest-turned-coffin makes the final piece of furniture in your life evermore meaningful. It's not some strange, alienated box that suddenly shows up when you're no longer around, but an intimate part of your life. Kent Caskets offers eco-friendly, free trade caskets that you can build yourself. You could even have all your friends and family write messages on it long before the time comes. There are also articles at on how to DIY your final destination.

Why wait? You know you need the storage!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I Want to Die Beautiful

Where did we get this idea that beauty somehow links us to immortality? Do we believe we will be more fondly remembered as a result of beauty? Cancer patient Lisa Connell wants to spend nearly $70,000 for cosmetic surgery that will make her look like Demi Moore. With only a few months to live, why subject oneself to painful surgery? It's the ultimate Vanitas in the face of death.

Perhaps it's out of a need to take control over a body that's gone horribly out of control. Perhaps it's a misguided belief that celebrity holds immortality, and by copying a celebrity, Lisa will become one herself. In any case, it's a fascinating story.

At first I was abhorred, but now I must admit I sort of support her goal. This is why: In our society we expect the dying to act with virtue. Maybe it's the hope that facing death will force us into a self-reckoning. This narrative of the "good death", where the dying impart words of wisdom, reassurance to the survivors, and embrace their destiny with dignity is an outdated and unfair myth. What a huge burden we impose on the dying.

So I say, go Lisa Connell! Do what you want with your body. It's your death. Don't listen to the hypocrites, especially Demi Moore.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mourning Dove Studios

Want to create your own memorial item but don't know where to start? For those who live in Arlington, Masachussetts, there's Mourning Dove Studios. There are drop-studio hours as well as workshops to help make the perfect item. It's kind of like paint-your-own pottery studios, but for grieving. Mourning Dove also has a Reading Room, Home Wake consultations, as well as access to resources, from deathbed choirs (!) to eco-friendly funeral directors.

I think the most important resource, however, is the sense of community offered at a place like this. How often do you find Grieving Rooms? It's a much needed place to connect with others going through the process, or who understand what you're experiencing. I hope that Mourning Dove Studios becomes a franchise!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Flight of the Soul

I'm on a search for imagery that conveys the idea of passing lives that's neither musty nor morbid. Nothing against angels, but I feel that they've jumped the shark. And honestly, while I like the concept of angels, the image of pudgy, curly-haired babies with wings isn't exactly what I picture.

The one image that seems to keep coming up for me is that of a bird. According to mythology, birds have long been associated with the coming and going of spirits or souls (is it any coincidence that storks bring babies?) On a personal note, I have this secret hope that the people I've love and lost come back as birds to check up on me - sometimes when I see a bird lingering in a tree I think "Is that you, Nana?" It makes me happy to think of her that way : )

As I gather images that feel appropriate, I'll begin with birds as a new symbol. I love this simple bird shapes by Kuss, a contemporary jewelry designer. A bird pin for a more sophisticated woman,

hummingbird cufflinks for a gent,

and this adorable necklace for a younger woman. Something for everyone!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Enviromentally Friendly Caskets

I'm not much for coffins, they usually make me claustrophic just looking at them. But these beautiful wicker willow coffins have a romantic flair, fit for a swooning Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia. Carefully hand-woven by Somerset Willow Company in the UK, these caskets are created with eco-friendly willow, locally harvested from the Somerset Levels.

If you prefer cremation, Somerset Willow Company also hand-weaves ashes caskets. It's almost as if you are going to a picnic.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Modern Hairwork

One of the most fascinating mourning rituals from the Victorian era was hairwork - creating jewelry, watch fobs, wreaths and other items from a loved one's locks. Hair is the only physical remnant we can hold on to, and for that reason it's incredibly intimate. The loving detail of Victorian hairwork is a kind of alchemy. In the hands of these crafters, hair almost becomes threaded gold, copper or silver - transforming the ephemeral nature of hair into something permanent like jewelry. It's a beautiful way to remember someone, yet honestly, if it's not your loved one, it can come off as a little morbid. I think this is why the tradition hasn't really found its way into modern times.

Artist Jennifer Perry, however, continues to work with hair in a new medium - canvas. She uses hair to sew ethereal images. I love this modern interpretation, the bringing together of needlework and hairwork. Although her work isn't commissioned, perhaps it's the beginning of a new tradition.

Here's more information from her blog:

Many of the women who were skilled in this specialized art came from a small town in Sweden called VĂ„mhus, and they traveled all over Europe to take orders and sell their work to combat the extreme poverty that they were experiencing in the late 18th to early 19th centuries (more here). Hairwork made by the Swedish women and others was called "tablework;" the hair was plaited using a special table with a hole in the center and bobbins to weigh down the strands of hair (similar to bobbin lace and Japanese Kumihimo). The results were gorgeous bracelets, necklaces, rings, earrings, brooches, and wreaths.

In the meantime, if you are interested in having something created out of hair, there are services available. The Victorian Hairwork Society is a great place to start.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Memory Blankets

Perhaps I should call this blog the Modern Rememberer! One of my goals is to find a way to repurpose our clothing in a way that's meaningful and sentimental. Too often we just toss our old stuff in the Salvation Army Bin, only to find years later we wished we had held onto it. Although I'm focusing on items that belong to people no longer with us, I truly believe it should be applied all through life. A young mother can make memory blankets from her maternity clothes. A father can turn his old work flannels into a tarp, or even a play tent. My point is that there is so much sentimentality associated with clothing, it's a shame to throw them away.

On that note, Kiki from Etsy's Allthenumbers has found some great examples of repurposed outgrown baby's clothing. This block pattern blanket with bamboo batting and cotton (or chenille) backing by Silverforgefarm is super sweet - just look at the details! It's something a child will someday treasure, and even pass on to their own children down the road. Absolutely adorable!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Eco Burial at Sea

Scattering ashes at sea can be a messy business. Lots Design of Sweden has a solution that's both sleekly clean and eco-friendly. They've created a modern biodegradable capsule called the "Shell". This pressed-paper vessel (made from recycled material of course) contains the ashes, as well as a pocket to hold the written messages of loved ones. I like the Shell because if feels like a vessel on its way to a fantastic underwater journey.

Beautiful Gift Books

More from Compendium ... gorgeous hardcover books without dustjackets. Inside are simple, well-designed quotations to soothe the spirit.

I prefer these to the cloying, cloud-covered self-help books that I would never dare give anyone. There's a strength and positivity that I find very reassuring.

The Long Goodbye

Writer Meghan O'Rourke is posting a series of articles that deal with grief on Slate. One entry, called "Finding a Metaphor for Your Loss", particularly moved me. O'Rourke talks about how we look for our lost one in the world around us - in the air, the wind, the sea, or the trees. It's more than a metaphor, it's a search for a sign - a physical manifestion of the one we lost, proof that they are still part of this world.

The truth is, I need to experience my mother's presence in the world around me and not just in my head. Every now and then, I see a tree shift in the wind and its bend has, to my eye, a distinctly maternal cast. For me, my metaphor is—as all good metaphors ought to be—a persuasive transformation. In these moments, I do not say to myself that my mother is like the wind; I think she is the wind. I feel her: there, and there. One sad day, I actually sat up in shock when I felt my mother come shake me out of a pervasive fearfulness that was making it hard for me to read or get on subways. Whether it was the ghostly flicker of my synapses, or an actual ghostly flicker of her spirit, I don't know. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hoping it was the latter.

For me, it's always been birds. Seeing a bird that appears to be lingering a little longer than usual makes me think perhaps that's my grandmother coming to check in on me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Go Ahead and Cry

What do you give someone who is going through loss? Flowers are beautiful, but they don't last. And their inevitable wilting is unfortunate, a depressing reminder of life's temporality.

Giving someone a journal is an extremely thoughtful gift. This journal by Seattle-based Compendium is a perfect example. Journals can be like a paper shoulder to cry on, a place to express all those crazy emotions. This pocket notebook has on its cover "Remember, the universe is friendly and life is on your side."

I also love Compendium's sympathy cards. This one has a quote from Jileen Russell: "Go ahead and cry. I'll catch your tears." Inside the card, "I'm here for you." Lovely.