More young mourners showing love, remembrance with 'RIP' shirts

Sat Oct 18, 2014 8:31am EDT
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By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - At the crowded funeral of 13-year-old Demureye' Macon, who was shot on a Chicago street, older mourners wore sober suits and dresses in beige and black.

But Macon's peers came dressed in colorful tributes to the seventh-grader, sporting T-shirts, jackets and bandanas bearing the deceased's photo, his birth and death dates and messages including "Long Live the King" and "RIP Demureye."

"He was like my little brother," Macon's friend Joshua Reynolds, 16, said at the funeral last week. Reynolds wore a shirt that read "My Brother's Keeper."

Custom-made "RIP" shirts for young victims of violence, accident or illness have become increasingly popular in recent years, according to the head of a national support group for families who have lost children. The shirts have become ubiquitous at the funerals of young victims of gun violence in Chicago, which had 414 murders in 2013.

"There's been a paradigm shift with younger people," said Alan Pedersen, executive director of The Compassionate Friends, based in Oak Brook, Illinois. "They're proud to display their grief and that they love and miss somebody."

William "Surf" Ryals, owner of T.B Customs on Chicago's South Side, said people began asking him for custom memorial shirts in the 1990s. At that time, mourners did not wear them to funerals but to meals after services or on the deceased person's birthday. The shirts were artistic and expensive, with rhinestones and poems.

Over the past five years, he said, young mourners have increasingly chosen to wear them to funerals. The shirts are now 40 percent of his business, he estimated.

"It's become the latest fashion," said Ryals, who fears some people don't take the shirts as seriously as in the past.   Continued...

Tawana Macon visits a vigil set up for her son Demureye Macon who was shot and killed in Chicago, Illinois, October 1, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young