Funeral Home Traditions
Funeral Planning Tips
Selecting a Funeral Home
Facts about Caskets
What to Do when Someone Dies Part I
What to Do when Someone Dies Part II
What to Do when Someone Dies Part III
Clothes to Be Buried In
Clothes to Be Buried In
Selecting a Loved One's Final Outfit
Of all preparations necessary for a person's memorial service, the decision about what clothes the deceased will be buried in may seem among the least significant. And, in situations in which a person is to be cremated or in which a closed-casket funeral is planned, the question may, indeed, seem moot. But, from an emotional perspective, it may even be quite important even in those cases too. The fact is, as with just about every other aspect of a loved one's final arrangements, deciding upon the clothes that will accompany a friend or loved one to eternity is never something that should be taken lightly. A man who made the decision to bury his father in the simplest of clothes was recently a guest on an internet podcast on this very subject, and he certainly expressed his regret: “My father was never one to dress up much. He always said he distrusted people who wear ties, and he certainly never expressed much interest in wearing a tie himself. So, when it came time to bury him, I just thought it was a no-brainer that we dress him exactly as he appeared to us in his family on most holidays and other important occasions: in his overalls, clean-but-simple, with a white t-shirt underneath and a pair of tube socks leading to his workboots. In fact, I thought it most appropriate to simply ask the hospital and funeral to coordinate so that Dad could be wearing the exact clothes in his casket that he had been wearing upon his death. They did a nice job with that, and our family was exceedingly happy and comforted by Dad's attire as we all paid our last respects to him just moments before his funeral in the viewing procession line that we had established to give the funeral as intimate a feel as possible. But the trouble came a few months later when I was quietly contemplating the service. Perhaps I had no business thinking like this, but I was rummaging through my brain, trying to think of ways we might have improved Dad's funeral – I guess I was somehow preparing for the next one our family would have to organize – and it occurred to me. Dad did own a tie. In fact, he owned two of them, and we'd given them both away to charity within a couple of weeks of the funeral. And I remembered Dad always made it a point to say that, while he didn't especially like ties, he always thought it was important to be sure to wear one at funerals and weddings. And, you know, from all that I can recall, he never broke that rule once. Dad always wore a tie when he ended up at weddings or funerals. But it saddened me to realize that he broke that rule in the funeral that was probably the most important of his life: his own.”
The man in this podcast ended up with a great deal of regret over the choice he and his family made for what his dad should wear to be buried. Granted, since the issue had not been discussed much (or at all) by the family before the father's funeral, the son had little reason to blame himself for what seemed later to have been big mistake. (Though “mistake,” of course, is debatable.) But, nevertheless, the regret – combined with the finality of a burial -- was an emotional experience that weighted heavily on the man for many decades after his father's passing. “Dad has probably never been happy in his overalls,” was the prevailing thought – the kind of thought that no relative relishes having after the loss of a dear relative.
So, to help others to avoid such an unfortunate experience – even accidentally – we offer the following tips for deciding what a person should wear to be buried.
The Difference Between Cremation and Burial
As we see in our story above about the man who had been buried in his overalls, there may not, in fact, be a difference between deciding what a person should wear to be cremated verses what should be worn for burial. Many might assume that, since cremation is completely irreversible, and there is no possibility of a body's returning to its clothed state just as it went into the crematory oven, the decision over what to wear is as moot a point as can be heard. And, in fact, many people are cremated without any negative consequence these days in nothing but the required simple coverings (sometimes nothing more than a thin sheet) that many laws necessitate of all who are to be cremated.
But this is not a decision to be taken lightly because of the emotional images that will remain in all loved one's minds for the remainder of their days on earth. It is important that families not discount the fact that, the clothing that will accompany a person in the cremation oven will likely be documented and described to others through the decades. The question should always be asked: is this really the way the deceased would want to be remembered. In many cases, the question will legitimately be “yes.” If that’s the case, then, so be it, the cremation should proceed with the simplest of coverings for the body.
But, if there is an outside chance that a person's spirit – known best by those who loved him or her – might object to the clothing chosen for the cremation oven, then those who are in charge of this decision owe it to themselves, and to their family's very legacy, to perhaps change a few plans and bring a few different clothes to the funeral home or crematory before the procedure takes place.
The same concept applies to burial, of course. There is no difference. The important thing to remember is that, no matter whether a person is to be buried or cremated, no matter whether a body will be on display at a funeral or not, the fact is this: clothing worn at the time of the final disposition will be documented, and it will become a part of the legacy of the deceased.
Considering the Spirit of the Deceased
Because emotional memories are so important to healthy grieving and to the proper preservation of a family legacy, strongly considering the spirit of the deceased in deciding upon a final set of clothes is of the utmost importance. The first step in such a consideration in this realm is to determine whether the deceased himself had any strong feelings about the way he or she should be dressed for the grave. In many cases, the answer to that can be tricky: as we saw in the case of the man above, he never voiced any strong feelings over his own body's clothing, but he did, in both practice and word, make it clear that he felt ties and other formal clothing were important pieces of all funerals. So, to assume that the man would have had no real interest in his own clothing at burial – just because he never voiced an opinion on the matter – was a significant mistake. It was a sign of the family not being fully in tune to the man's spirit.
To properly consider the spirit of the deceased in deciding what clothes a person should wear to be buried, a family must take into account all that the man or woman said, and did, in his or her life. To assume that written instructions (or a lack-thereof) are always best adhered to may be, in fact, making a mistake. It's best that no one person be asked to make this decision on his or her own and that all involved in the decision take the question very, very seriously. The clothes that a person will be buried in are the very image that all the world will have of the person for eternity. A great deal of thought and discussion should go in to trying to get that decision right.
How to Make the Best Decision
The point from the last section cannot be stressed enough. Even experts in the fields of psychology and grief counseling will warn families that, if they find themselves not consulting one another carefully on this matter of what to wear in the grave, they may be putting their emotional wellbeing at risk for many decades. Conversation and discussion on this topic are as important as can be. In the midst of all the other arrangements that must be made by a family in preparation for a funeral service for a loved one, the thought of a great deal of discussion over what clothes should be worn by the body in the casket or cremation container may seem to be among the most trivial, arbitrary and even comical of all. But, as more than one family has managed to attest in well-written, carefully consider pieces that have ended up being published by reputable establishments, not devoting sufficient attention to this, seemingly minor, detail can have a great deal of unintended, negative consequences in the long run for the family of the deceased.