How We Grieve


Meghan O'Rourke delves:

In the wake of the AIDS crisis and then 9/11, the conversation about death in the United States has grown more open. Yet we still think of mourning as something to be done privately. There might not be a “right” way to grieve, but some of the work [psychologist George] Bonanno describes raises the question of whether certain norms are healthier than others. In Western countries with fewer mourning rituals, the bereaved report a higher level of somatic ailments in the year following a death.

Today, [psychoanalyst Darian] Leader points out, our only public mourning takes the form of grief at the death of celebrities and statesmen.

Some commentators in Britain sneered at the “crocodile tears” of the masses over the death of Diana. On the contrary, Leader says, this grief is the same as the old public grief in which groups got together to experience in unity their individual losses. As a saying from China’s lower Yangtze Valley (where professional mourning was once common) put it, “We use the occasions of other people’s funerals to release personal sorrows.” When we watch the televised funerals of Michael Jackson or Ted Kennedy, Leader suggests, we are engaging in a practice that goes back to soldiers in the Iliad mourning with Achilles for the fallen Patroclus. Our version is more mediated.

Still, in the Internet age, some mourners have returned grief to a social space, creating online grieving communities, establishing virtual cemeteries, commemorative pages, and chat rooms where loss can be described and shared.

(Photo by Flicker user squigglypuddle)