In Depth

Should funerals be sombre occasions?

Sky News presenter asks mourners at wife’s funeral to wear black saying he’s ‘ill at ease’ with modern conventions

Sky News anchor Colin Brazier has asked those attending his wife’s funeral not to wear bright colours, requesting that mourners “leave their Hawaiian shirts and pink helium balloons at home” and attend in black.

The journalist, whose wife Jo died from breast cancer earlier this month, writes in a piece for The Spectator that he is “ill at ease” with many of the conventions surrounding modern funerals. He added that his decision had nothing to do with religion, although a Catholic Requiem Mass would be held.

According to a YouGov poll published in 2016, wearing black is now only seen as a requirement at funerals by 22% of people.

Among those polled, 45% think wearing other colours is fine as long as they are dark and sombre, while 29% believe any colour is appropriate to wear to a funeral.

A survey of 2,000 people by ICM in 2015 suggested 54% wanted their funeral to be a “celebration of life”.

In the Spectator piece, Brazier argues “maybe grown-ups can handle the cognitive dissonance required in ‘celebrating’ a life rather than, you know, being all morbid. But I seriously doubt children can”.

Wearing black gives people licence to be sad, says Brazier, who adds: “Treat a funeral like Ascot’s Ladies Day and not only does that trivialise death, but the spotlight of consolation shifts away from the family, where it would have been had the congregation dressed uniformly.”

In the same piece, Brazier said that the modern funeral represents “the privatisation of what, hitherto, was a public event”, adding that something was lost when commemoration become “a series of in-jokes or semi-private reflections”.

The broadcaster, a practising Catholic, concluded: “The old stuff - the black and the solemn - works because it distills the wisdom of ages.”

Professor Douglas Davies, director of Durham University's Centre for Death and Life Studies, told the BBC it is not known whether wearing black rather than colourful clothing can help the grieving process.

But he said having a “cultural agreement” on the emotion at an event would be expected to help mourners.

“There would be a sense of togetherness, the togetherness in the shared grief symbolised in the uniformity of dressing,” he said.

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