Friday, February 10, 2012

R.I.P.,........ the Mourning Ring

I attended a funeral yesterday of a fellow co-worker, an older gentleman who was former military, and though some of the ceremony seemed a bit gruesome, or perhaps, surreal, the military honors were beautiful, which included the three-gun salute, and the playing of taps out in the crisp February air. Got me to thinking of past traditions, especially those of the 18th century.
A very useful source for these customs and the way death was handled in 18th Century England, can be found in the diary of shopkeeper Thomas Turner, kept from 1754-1765, whose main duties for the shop in Sussex was to "serve funerals", including the supply of cloth, garments, hats, medicinal goods, stationary, gloves for the industry.
He states that "death was never far away in an age when the expectation of life was short." Perhaps this is why the customs were more straightforward, and accepting. Children died all the time, and families faced the propect of losing many to childbirth, illness, injury. It was almost a foregone conclusion.
One of the traditions of the time was the "mourning ring", which seems strange to us today, but were quite popular as an expression of grief. Some bear the deceased's name, some an image of angels, urns, flowers, and some have woven hair taken from the dead person.
Today, of course, we have our own traditions, including the sometimes-rather-distasteful tattoo featuring the deceased face, or date of birth and death, etc. There's always a way we try to deal with the issue. Perhaps the mourning ring was better, because when the mourning period was over, (as it should end sometime), the ring, too, could be put away.

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