Symbols of loss and mourning

Charles 5 Comments

Posted by Vale

We use signs and symbols in our daily lives all the time. A green cross outside a shop means a chemist; a green P on a car is a new driver abroad; a twist of pink ribbon somehow signifies breast cancer. But what are our symbols of loss and mourning?

We used to have plenty. Whitby – and it’s jewellers – grew rich on them in Victorian times, but they have almost all gone now – but wouldn’t it be nice, sometimes, to be able to let people know that you are still grieving, remembering, letting go?

There are symbols out there. You can buy a mourning cross from this website here. Not for me – but maybe you like it?

In a way though, it sharpens the question for the secular mourner – where is the non-religious symbol of mourning or remembrance?

It’s a slightly tangential thought but I came across the the West African tradition of mourning robes decorated with Adinkra symbols recently.

The name Adinkra comes from a legendary King conquered by the Ashante people, who, so the stories tell, wore luxurious patterned fabrics. Adinkra also means “goodbye,” and the special cloth, printed with Andinkra symbols, was reserved for funeral garments. The symbols themselves are rich, expressive and beautiful. The selection printed on the mourning garment were supposed to describe the particular virtues and qualities of the person mourned. Here are a few:


There are more of the symbols here.

There’s a challenge in these lovely shapes and signs – what symbols can we make to mark our loss? How do we show the world that – for a while at least – there is mourning here?

In the light of Charles and Jenny’s comments here is the other funeral symbol made by the good people at Mourning Cross:


  1. Charles

    What magnificent symbols! Thanks Vale. I’m tempted simply to nick them. But I suppose (obvious point from me no. 3,475) symbols need a familiar context and shape to work for other than the wearer. Still, one day a long time ago:

    “What’s that daft sign you’re wearing?”
    “It’s a fish.”
    “So, you’re a fisherman?”
    “Only of souls. It shows I’m a Christian.”

    Or, rather more unplesantly:

    “So Adolf, what’s with that daft sign on your armband?”
    “It’s a swastika.It’s my party’s symbol.”
    “Your party? Huh. How members you got?”
    “Me and my dog. But just you wait and see. Wear this swastika or I’ll bash yer face in…”
    The rest is (apalling) history.

    etc etc

    i.e. you only get things accepted by doing them and hoping it spreads. Contemporary jewellers please note: mourning/rememberance rings needed.

  2. Charles

    Nice work, Vale. also does a dove on a roundel which I like very much. Worn after the funeral, at work, out shopping, etc, it’s a gentle reminder to others that we’re not yet fair game for the full rough and tumble.

    Of course, this sort of thing can always be overdone and worn forever — but there’s no legislating for pathological grief or whatever you’d term it.

    They’re very nice people at Mourningcross — and, as you say, the concept of symbols of l & m is a good and useful one.

  3. Charles

    Ah, Charles you beat me to it with the comment about the mourning cross roundel. They are indeed very nice people. We have 50 of each and we often offer them to families at larger funerals (free of charge.) They are always very well received and families often comment on how useful they found them. I may be wrong but I do not think that. as yet, we have used any of the crosses. Having said that the company is based in Ireland where, I suspect, the demand is higher.

    GM, You are right, of course, that symbols have a context. It is interesting, however, to see what happens when that symbol is taken outside of its original context and reinterpreted by a different culture, group or person. The swastika you mention which was a very positive sign in Northern European pre-Christian religion and still is in Hinduism. (I remember long conversations with school kids before we went to the Mandir about how much I would prefer it if they did not accuse the pandit of beng a Nazi because there were swastikas on the shrine.) The cross is another such example. So maybe you should just go ahead and re-interpret them 🙂

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