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Crowning Glory

Recently, I was asked to make a shroud for a woman who, because of an illness she has,  is in the final stages of her life.  Bespoke shrouds are not something I do frequently for the philosophy of Shroud Memento is to co-ordinate families to participate in the making of a shroud for another or, via a workshop, to make a shroud for yourself or someone close to you.  During the consultation with the woman and two of her grown children, she sketched for me an idea of what it was she wanted.

She didn’t like the word shroud, and she didn’t want a flat decorated cloth.  She handed over several pieces of material that held meaning and value for her.  When I saw what she had drawn it meant that I would need to make a pattern that would connect the panels of cloth to create the idea of the gown she had sketched, similar to a Japanese kimono, and to represent the essence of life in the garment.

Entrusted to make such a gown, I was responsible for honouring the creative wishes of the client.  In accepting the commission,  I partook in a privileged role that required the engagement of my skills, focus and spiritual attention, for without them, I could not create the gown desired, nor understand how the pieces of cloth would harmoniously connect.  Intuition is a way of connecting to the consciously unknown and helps when a decision needs to be made, such as the length or width of a panel, or working with the pattern within decorative cloth, or even where I was going to source the perfect colour and texture of lining.  I rely on my intuition to guide me with these decisions and I believe that intuition is the connection of my spirit to another.  The son of the client had made a neck-piece for his mother to wear with the gown before it was commission and I was gladdened to hear that the piece sat perfectly with the positioning of panels and colour of the cloth.

The bulk of the sewing was by machine, yet I left the tops of the lined panels to sew by hand.  Hand sewing is meditative for me and with each stitch I said the words to myself, peace and love as a way to keep a spiritual focus and as a respectful prayer for the wearer of the gown; two things that I believe are important states to aspire to, or obtain at the end of life.

To create an opportunity for the children of the client to have some part in the gown without over-riding or altering her wishes, I suggested that I sew pockets onto the lining of the gown to hold small items or written messages to be slipped into the pockets which would then wrap around their mother. It also allows the children an opportunity to invite others to be a part of an end of life ceremony.

When the gown was complete and collected by the client’s daughter, I received a text message later that evening that read:   Helen, Mum absolutely loves it.  She put it on straight away and hasn’t taken it off!  She put all her jewellery on then just slept peacefully all afternoon.  We are thrilled.  It is so beautiful and perfect.  Thank you so much.

Throughout my working life I have never received positive feedback that moves or fulfils me the way such comments as this does; it filled me with peace and love.

Peace and love to you all.


 4 Responses 

  1. So lovely to read your post about making this shroud. It’s a very special commission indeed, thank you for bringing such care to it. I’m not actually a fan of shrouds myself, but I can see that this bespoke shroud was an important part of your client’s process of dying. I also remember when my brother died, how important it was to be able to dress his body, and the significance of choosing what he wore. By contrast when my father died, the funeral parlour, without consultation, completely covered the clothes we chose for him with a white satin, lacy shroud that was completely at odds with who he was. I guess if people don’t want to see the body of their loved one in the coffin it makes no difference, but I do, and this experience helps me understand what a wonderful service you are providing.

    • helen

      Hi Jill. Thank you for sharing your response to the Crowning Glory post and the tenderness in which you expressed your story. I understand and share your reaction to the covering of your fathers carefully chosen clothes by a non-specific unapproved shroud. I love hearing that you chose the clothes and dressed the bodies of your brother and father, partaking in the ceremony, spending time with them by doing so, focused on them at the end of their lives. It is with the same spirit and connection behind the purpose of coordinating families, individual people or groups to be involved, to make personal choices, to address and dress the body of the life they loved and knew. Personalised shrouds don’t necessarily exclude clothing, and for me, they are befitting for the life that rests in its end state. Peace. xo

  2. Fiona

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Helen.
    What an amazing journey…for you and for the client and their family.

    • helen

      Thank you Fiona.

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