A different era
Ladies wore black to mourn their loved-ones
As youth growing up in Newfoundland during the 1950s, we were all so puzzled when we saw our mothers, grandmothers and aunts all draped in black dresses, bandanas, coats, stockings, shoes and boots with fur tops.
We never really got to understand all of this until many years after. However, it was all a kind of spiritual gesture of respect, which was never explained to us as young children, not even as teenagers. We did sense something was not right, but never got to express our thoughts fully as everyone appeared too sad. It was as if we were not supposed to know what was happening. Perhaps, it was not a time to be asking curious questions? Maybe it was better as parents felt there were certain events happening that may traumatize their children and give them bad nightmares.
We were very outgoing as children in the 1950s, often visiting our neighbours. We were like one real big family kingdom who cared and respected the well being of each other. It was an era of close networks of family, friends and neighbours.
A magnetic attraction of caring and wondering was felt as to how others were doing and if there was anything we could possibly do to help in difficult times of death, tragedy, and even during a serious illness.
We could not understand the pain and sadness of a dear lady mourning the loss of a loved one at sea. It could’ve been her husband, son, grandchild, or even another close family member. The echoes of crying and moaning from an open window could be heard as everyone turned in for the night. Long nights of loneliness overshadowed what had once been a cheerful and happy homestead. The inner fears of childhood grew as we began to hold back our tears when we sensed the sadness. We could not help but let go of our emotions for someone who was so deeply sad, feeling lost and alone, their loved-one abruptly taken away by the mysterious sea. We did not have anyone to share our own sadness with, as we were not sure if it was a good thing to do, to show our real feelings to and for others.
I remember so well, one lady in my childhood hometown who lived down the harbour, in on the marsh as we called it. She was truly the first lady I ever saw wearing a black dress in mourning of her late husband.
She had long white hair, and a long black dress, which was homemade as she was always so very proud to say. She also made many for other women who lost their good husbands at sea, or had died suddenly. She was always very happy to see me whenever I dropped by her home with her grandchildren. It was as if we had been good friends for many years, and she indicated often that she loved to have company, especially God’s little children.
I was not certain if she was really a nice lady as we had our own fairy tales about ladies wearing black dresses. In later years, she did take the time to tell me some sad and heart-warming stories as to why ladies wore black dresses after the death of a loved-one, more so for the husband. However, many ladies wore their black dresses for a year while others wore them forever.
There were many ladies who admitted they just could not let go of the person they lost who was a very important part of their life. Why should they? It was not a cultural thing, but a spiritual closeness and respect for their loved-one.
While that kind of mourning is no longer common in this day and age, there are still some seniors who carry on this spiritual closeness and sense of respect for a dear spouse. We still see it among European cultures, who have settled in our country, Canada.
The great Atlantic Ocean has taken away many loved-ones who never got to say goodbye. There was never a closure for the family, just an imaginary sense of peace within their hearts that loved-ones were not in pain no matter where they were lost at sea. Perhaps, they were able to have time to ask God to protect and care for their dear family members on the land before they entered into their watery grave and their souls departed for that greater place we call Heaven.
There was no doubt the mysterious, unpredictable nature embraced them all in the great Atlantic waves that surely had no conscience as to who they were and how many sad, loved ones there would be suffering with so much sorrow and pain in their hearts.