Thursday, September 1, 2011
As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, there's one topic that comes up a lot in conversations here, and that is the fact that this country does such a crappy job with grief and mourning.
Above is a painting by Gustave Courbet from 1849 of the funeral of his uncle in the small French town of Ornans. By the standards of the day, this was a very routine funeral. For us here (and possibly in France), such a ceremony is unimaginable today. The grave is open and undisguised. But even more than that, this funeral is not a private ceremony for the family, but a public occasion for the town. The mayor stands near the center. Two red robed justices attend. Everyone wears black, and open grieving is not exactly being discouraged. The fact of loss is openly and publicly acknowledged. The family loses a loved one. The parish says farewell to a departing soul. The town bids a formal farewell to one of its citizens.
I remember many years ago watching on teevee an interview with a man whose son had been kidnapped and murdered. The poor man felt obliged to put as brave a face on the loss as possible, "we'll get through this." I remember thinking, "Forget about getting through it. There are times when it's fit and proper to sit in an ash heap and tear your garments and wail, and this is one of them." Our very atomized society and youth-fixated culture gives the bereaved and their comforters very little to work with. The bereaved are left to grieve in isolation, and their acquaintances are terrified of saying anything wrong or offensive. In this very private society, we have few if any structures or rituals for people to come together to acknowledge loss and to comfort each other. Funerals and memorials become either obligatory rituals to be handled as efficiently and expeditiously as possible, or they are so very treacly and over-the-top.
Posted by Counterlight at Thursday, September 01, 2011