• PM Neist

The grieving hat


There’s so much to grieve this week: the agonizingly slow, public death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, several COVID-related deaths in our friend community and the mounting worldwide toll of deaths and illnesses. Someone posted the word “ENOUGH” on their Facebook page. I agree though I also know grieving doesn’t stop at a word, or because we simply want it to.


Long after the marches, Facebook condolences, and messages of support recede, the families of the victims will still be left to claw their way through grief - if they can. It’s a messy, lonely, confusing time especially when the rest of the world keeps on ticking, with its own agenda. There’s no map for getting to the other end. Few rituals, not a lot of support.

Years ago, a friend of mine, whom I had thought was a only child, shared that he had in fact two older siblings who had both died in the same accident when they were very young. My friend’s father had worn a black tie every day since, even while on vacation. That story stuck with me. This man had found is own way to cope with the unspeakable.

This is how the idea of the grieving hat came about. It is my version of the mourner’s black tie, a little something to hang on to.

The hat is plain cotton embroidered with vintage linen thread. I selected this particular thread because it is old and too thick for the fabric. The thread has already starting to fade and fray, which is exactly the point. This hat is designed to wear out, slowly. It will eventually look and feel entirely different from what it was at the start. The same and not the same. Tattered, faded, tragic and beloved or hated. It's a mourner’s hat, to be worn for as long as it takes.



My first experience of accompanying a mourner was when Dr. O lost his teenage son. I supported myself at a Human Resources job at the time and had to help file the life insurance claim for the child. Week after week, Dr. O came to my office to follow up on paperwork. Really, he just wanted to talk. It made him feel better, he said, so I learned to listen. Dr. O was an immigrant like me. He shared how lonely he felt, how, in his country of origin, people could surround themselves with family and friends but here, there was no one. People are so busy. He explained that sharing one’s grief with another person is like slowly polishing a stone. Each retelling of the loss very, very slowly smoothes the sadness out, just a bit. The heaviness never goes away but sharing the burden makes it more bearable.



I will be sending the hat to someone who needs it. So many people are grieving right now, it's hard to decide who needs it most, but I will sit quietly and figure it out.


I embroidered a small marking inside the hat band. It's not an artist's signature but I want the person who receives to know that I am listening.

I don't plan on hearing about what happens to the hat. I hope it reaches the right spot, provides comfort and eventually wears itself out.




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