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Bring Back the Black Armband!

Orphans with black armbands to mourn their mother F.M. Brown 1865


I wish I had a black arm band, a sign to say I am in mourning.
I went online but can’t find any at Amazon.
Except police. They can get cheap bands online and so can teams who lose a member.
I discovered that “Black Arm Band” is a group of Australia’s premier indigenous musicians.


When I visited the Aboriginal embassy outside the parliament of Australia’s capital, Canberra, a 40-year-old occupy” movement, I saw people who know grief.

My friend Martin, a doctor, once attended an Aboriginal “Sorry Camp.”  He joined a patient’s family in the desert outside of town the night of her death. Under the dark sky people wept and wept, held in each other’s laps saying, “Sorry. Sorry.” There was food and bodies that rhythmically bumped shoulder to shoulder. This was what their grieving body wanted.

My body needs to recognize the profound loss of a loved one. Mostly, I am doing this alone, yet glad that I don’t live in 18th century England.

“By the 19th century, mourning behaviour in England had developed into a complex set of rules, particularly among the upper classes. Women bore the greatest burden of these customs. They involved wearing heavy, concealing, black clothing, and the use of heavy veils of black crêpe…”widow’s weeds” (from the Old English “Waed” meaning “garment”).

… There was special mourning jewelry, often made of jet and with the hair of the deceased in a locket or brooch…Widows were expected to wear special clothes to indicate that they were in mourning for up to four years after the death, although a widow could choose to wear such attire for the rest of her life. …  In general, servants wore black armbands when there had been a death in the household.

One blogger says “The fashion for heavy mourning was drastically reduced after the Great War.  So many individuals died that just about everyone was in mourning for someone. By 1918 a whole new attitude had developed and this was hastened even further by the Second World War.”

The world had so much mourning that people couldn’t handle that much black? My husband, a hospice chaplain, said, “Maybe if all the women had worn black there wouldn’t have been a second world war.”

Death, the great teacher, is invisible on our streets, in our cafe’s and schools. So, I am considering a black arm band thanks to my good friend and muse Sharon Pavelda, a death midwife and persona known as Mortina DeKay, the merry mortician who asks, “What if the reaper isn’t grim?” She agrees that we need a sign that death has us by the sleeve.

If I find a black arm band I might just wear it until it falls off. How do you move in the world when death leads?

Grief asks for no explanations…


Because there are people who care, because there is enough support, because each visit I see her diminish, slowly curling up in spite of best efforts and the gleam in her eye, because of all this my heart aches, and unexpectedly I heave with grief as I unbirth Mom.

Grief asks for no explanations. I try to trust my body in a world where I hardly see the unbeauty of letting go.

Is Alzheimer’s disease our Master teacher of letting go?

Body Memory

An AD Tangle
Image via Wikipedia

forgetting something
by Nick Flynn

“Try this—close / your eyes. No, wait, when—if—we see each other / again the first thing we should do is close our eyes—no, / first we should tie our hands to something / solid—bedpost, doorknob—otherwise they (wild birds) / might startle us / awake. Are we forgetting something? What about that / warehouse, the one beside the airport, that room / of black boxes, a man in each box? I hear / if you bring this one into the light he will not stop / crying, if you show this one a photo of his son / his eyes go dead. Turn up / the heat, turn up the song. First thing we should do / if we see each other again is to make / a cage of our bodies—inside we can place / whatever still shines.” Thanks to Poet.org

Body memory is evidence of a place beyond everyday consciousness. As I sit with mom, I regard her dance with Alzheimers as an amazing feat of body memory. She remains connected by this mechanism.

What does her body remember? What role is memory playing in her day? How does she still remember how to dance when so much else has disappeared?

Science does not yet know how to explain body memory. As a dancer, I learned that I could download bodies of information that would remain. Embodied practice is like a bank account. I can draw on dances for my entire life.

Practice gave access to histories of experience. If I don’t have to concentrate on what I am learning I can attend to additional information in the moment. A dancing memory provides a platform for experiences that can only be received if the platform is there.

Then there are memories that I’ve never practiced. Why did I hate gambling? Is memory related to our cells? Some say genes have memory. ( see The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the ORigins of Consciousness by Jeremy Narby) I believe they do. When I learned that some of my family members have  struggled with gambling I wondered if this was why the thought of Las Vegas repels me?

And what about when a memory prints without our knowing it? A sub or pre-conscious felt image makes our body seem like a tempurpedic mattress. Yet we are able to filter the infinite impresssions experienced in any given day. I say, “Thank goodness I can forget!”

Mom can improvise in every way. She can make up words. She can move objects. She can give you a kiss and fend you off when you trespass on her personal space. Are these mere instincts? What is the light that suddenly flares when she looks up and really recognizes me?

Share some of the mystery of memory with me on my blog page called Dancing with the D Words. Click here and check it out.