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On communal grief

We’re all entitled to our own reaction.

To catastrophe, to unexpected joy, to death.

When people get very involved in the death of someone they didn’t know, I am slightly puzzled. Of course it is their right. But all behaviours meet a need. And I’m a little baffled as to what need is actually being met in these cases.

Anyway, no sermon. Do what meets your needs, and respect that others may meet theirs by not feeling any urge to join you. And that’s fine too.

A small anecdote:

A dozen or so years ago, a close relative by marriage was hit by a speeding police car in Croydon town centre. She died a day or so later from her severe head injuries. A tall, beautiful girl, 17, with her place at Cambridge secured. Devastating.

We drove past the scene a couple of days after it happened (I’m not sure if it was by chance, or that sort of “by chance” that is actually quite intentional.)

A few tragic bundles of flowers were taped to the lamp post across the road from the library. Small, bedraggled cards from schoolfriends. Very moving.

A few days later, we passed by again. This time, a mountain of flowers were there. We never realised she was so popular. I stopped and got out to look at the first one.

“Dear Diana, you will forever be in our hearts”.

And so it went on, right down the pile.

It was early September, 1997. The good people of Croydon had clearly been struggling to know where the “official” flower-laying place was, until this little scattering of children’s tributes appeared.

Alice gave them that, at least.

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One Response

  1. Joanne Jacobs says:

    :( That’s a sad story, Paul. Your relative, Alice, deserved her own ‘place’ and not to be drowned out by public grief for someone else entirely.

    But I guess this is another example of a need for ‘location’ of statements of grief; there seems to be a need for people to contribute towards something larger than their own mourning. Privately and separately expressing their sense of loss is considered somehow ‘insufficient’. By collaboratively developing tributes, they are showing they are one of many, not one losing one. It is as much an expression of solidarity as it is of grief. While one’s own grief is enough – often too much – it is somehow comforting to be one of many experiencing loss.

    I think the hardest kind of grief is that which must only be experienced alone, or which for a whole series of reasons, may be shared. And it’s not only grief of losing someone who has passed away, but losing a way of life, a dream, a love. This kind of loss can be as devastating and as debilitating as a death, yet its expression is, if anything, discouraged. There is no solidarity in such a loss, but rather a sense of being absolutely alone.

    I just wish people would be as willing to help a friend in private need as they are willing contribute a token to a stranger in communal grief. Being there for someone who is suffering may not generate a sense of solidarity but it will certainly be of greater value than any collective offering to public grief.

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