As I left my safe cocoon at the hospital after having Gianna, the room where everyone who entered knew what had happened and was oh-so kind and gentle, I was terrified to realize I was now back in the real world where that kindness was not a given. I found myself wishing over and over again that I had a pin that said “My baby died. Please be nice to me.” to wear when I was out in the world, to perhaps garner a little kindness when I was having an especially raw day.
When I related that story in an email to Elizabeth McCracken, whose book, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir, is about the loss of her son, she said she has had many conversations with grieving people about what a shame it is that we’ve given up the tradition of wearing black for a year after a close death, so people could know to be tender.
I wanted to see a return to this tradition, by wearing a black ribbon. The notion of awareness ribbons is certainly nothing new, and black ribbons already represent mourning. I have come to understand that it’s a Jewish tradition to wear a black ribbon for one month following the death of an immediate family member. You make a tear in the ribbon to indicate that your heart is torn, but the tear is in the fabric because fabric can be sewn back together, so though our hearts will never be the same, they will heal.
I want the black ribbon be a sign to everyone that the person wearing it has lost someone they love. I made one for myself, with a pink crystal heart in the center for my girl. When I’m wearing it, I feel like she is with me. It’s my hope that people will come to know these ribbons, watch for them, and be tender. I want them to know that it is their chance to bring the gift of light to that person, in that moment.
The ribbons are, in short, my more appropriate version of the “My baby died. Please be nice to me.” pin.
I make and distribute Gianna’s ribbons, black ribbons with pink crystal hearts for bereaved families. We have distributed over 11,000 ribbons to date in 41 states, Ireland, Canada, Australia and Switzerland.