“Cultural fashion trends and styles play a key role in the way that we present ourselves to the world on a daily basis. Throughout our lives and also in death we are represented by the way that we are dressed.”
Throughout history, cultures from across the globe have held the preparation and dressing of the deceased sacred. Many cultures and religious groups have designated specific items in which their deceased are to be funeralized and buried in. Two groups that have gone as far as to appoint specific groups of individuals with the task of dressing the deceased are the Jews and Muslims. In the Jewish religion this group is known as the Chevra Kadisha and in the Muslim religion this group has many names. In both Jewish and Muslim faiths shrouding (covering or wrapping of the deceased in sacred garments) is considered to be one of the most pure and laudable acts that one can perform because it is an act of favor that cannot be returned by the deceased.
In American culture, the honor of dressing the deceased is most often given to the funeral home that the family/ person making arrangements chooses to work with. Selecting the clothing items for a loved one who has passed away is one of the most intimate and important steps in the process of making funeral arrangements. Many families that I have worked with have found this process to be extremely emotional and at times have had difficulty making these decisions. Understandably, many questions arise leaving many people feeling embarrassed and afraid to ask.
Here are the top five most frequently asked questions:
1. What should I bury my loved one in?
This decision is totally up to the family/ person making arrangements. It is my personal and professional belief that the clothes that someone is buried in should reflect who they were in life. For example, a 90-year-old grandmother would not traditionally be presented wearing bright red lipstick and a halter top unless that was her normal dress. Many families have found it helpful to use a favorite color, dress or suite when making clothing selections. If your loved one had a favorite sports team or organization that they were closely affiliated with, any garments which reflect that are completely appropriate.
Many families also opt to bury deceased loved ones in their work uniform, especially service men and women. When burying a child, I have seen many families use pajamas, sports team attire, and costumes and garments which represent favorite cartoon characters. The options are unlimited. Another helpful hint is to make sure that the colors selected for the garments coordinate with the color of the casket and main floral arrangement.
2. Do I have to buy something new? Do I need to have the items I bring in dry cleaned?
Absolutely not (in most cases)! It is totally up to you whether or not you want to purchase new clothing for your loved one to be buried in. The key is to make sure that whatever items you select fit the deceased. Many decedents have succumbed to illness which has resulted in drastic weight loss or gain leaving the clothes that they own either too big or small. It is important to know that in these situations it may be necessary to purchase new clothing to ensure the best presentation possible. If you do choose to bring in items that are not new it is good practice to ensure that they are clean and dry cleaned if needed.
3. Is it true that the clothes are going to be cut?
Yes, in many instances when dressing the deceased it is common practice to cut the clothing in a straight line up the back. This aids in dressing and also creates a more natural appearance for the deceased while lying in the casket. In situations where clothing is to too tight or loose this also helps to create a better fit when possible. If you do not wish for the garments that you bring in to be cut simply let your funeral director know.
4. Do I need to bring in jewelry, make up, underwear and shoes? Can I have the clothes back that the deceased wore to the funeral home?
Again, this is totally up to you. Most funeral homes keep a supply of undergarments on hand to protect the modesty of the deceased and will always have cosmetics available. If there is a particular shade or brand of lipstick, nail polish, or make up that you want your loved one to wear it would be wise to provide it yourself or inform your funeral director. Jewelry in most cases is not provided by the funeral home. If the decedent comes into the funeral home wearing jewelry it is common practice for it to either remain with the body or be given to the family/ person making arrangements. Many families request that jewelry be placed on the body for viewing but removed and returned prior to burial. Shoes are often placed on the deceased but are not required.
Clothing and ALL personal items such as jewelry, all forms of money, dentures, shoes, etc. brought in with the deceased from the medical examiner, hospital or place of death should by law always be itemized and returned to the next of kin or left with the body of the deceased. Unless the items taken into custody with the deceased pose biological hazards or serve as evidence to a crime they should be available to be returned to the next of kin.
5. Can I choose my own clothes?
YES!!!!!!!!!! I encourage everyone to pre-plan for final arrangements and that includes the way you want to be dressed. When making pre-arrangements I instruct the individuals and families that I work with to get as creative as possible when selecting their garments and informing their loved ones of their where abouts. Many of the people that I have worked with have chosen to beautifully pack their garments and other special items in suitcases and enclose letters addressed to their loved ones with instructions and placing them personally significant locations.
It is my hope that this article helps someone when making final decisions for a loved one. As always I am eager to hear from you. What are your questions? What do you need to know? How can we get this conversation started in our community?
Joél Simone Anthony, also known as ‘The Grave Woman,’ is a licensed funeral director and embalmer. She is dedicated to eliminating misconceptions about post-life preparation while stimulating an open, honest and straight forward discussion about death. You can submit your comments, questions and requests to firstname.lastname@example.org or by using our contact page.