Monday, February 25, 2013

Inversion of the Mourning Process

There's the weeping "leave me alone" type. The hysteric. The rock solid stoic. The evasive one. There's the jokester masking pain. There's the solemn one. Just about every calling hours and funeral sequence has those characters. Burial rites have been critical moments throughout history. Burial locations were often the original sacred groves or spots for early human societies. Each society handled death differently, but mourning after the death for an extended period of time was a common practice even in the modernized West during Industrialization. Post-WW2 American society had grown men wearing black armbands for recently departed family members. Anyone do that anymore? Quick check, I'd say no. Another quick check, I'd say mourning or expressing grief in public would be minimal today. What changed? With current technology, current victim culture primacy and the way people die today, mourning has changed its substance and become focused on "what were your actions in the spiral down of their death".
Sudden deaths do occur. I see statistics on causes of death every three months, so I know that cancer and heart disease related deaths make up a large chunk of deaths for all people. I'm not talking about younger deaths here, but deaths of our elderly grandparents. How many people watch a 75 or 80 year old grandparent die who at 55-65 would have died if not for the miracle of modern medicine and science? I've seen three in my family and many others through friends and extended family. Do your families practice old school mourning in black beyond the funeral? Do they take formal pictures? It's informal now and you might get shout outs on their birthdays as a reminder. There is no nitpicking on the level of mourning. I had a dumbass cousin wear all white to a funeral because it was part of her author/product profile. She had been doing a year in white (eye roll + dismissive wanking motion). That grandparent had raised her when her mom abandoned her. Special connection. Wore white for her fucking book when everyone wore black. No one mentioned it. Hell few people discussed the death and funeral a week or two later.
But they kept score of who visited my gramma in the hospital. They had an unofficial statistical analysis of who visited, who stayed by her side, how often people visited, phone calls per day, tears shed per bedside visit, and an array of score keeping that would have made Bill James blush. The core of this score-keeping was what did you do in the long spiral down and how did you carry that burden? Many families will do this, and mine is no different. People all stake their claim as to who did what for how long and how much. Mourning in the past was a sign of respect and love for the loss of the individual and proper recognition of their life. This new styled pre-death burden bearing is victim status claiming. "See, I really cared about them. I showed up after work every day for the last 6 weeks! Look at how deeply I feel." One of the lamest arguments or claims I have ever heard was from someone who had to possibly make the decision on pulling the plug. Fortunately, their elderly parent died on her own, but after the funeral, I must have heard "Look, I was going to have to make a decision", half a dozen times. This wasn't about you and your decision responsibilities. It was about the end of her life. It was the last page of the disease filled, last chapter to a long life full of joys and sorrows. These people disregard anything that happened in their past that was awful or completely self-centered; what happened those last six weeks is what matters. I check back six weeks later, and they've usually gone right back to their normal lives. Little comment on their lost love one. It's not all of them, but a large bloc.
This is weird and seems to be an inversion of the tradition of mourning. Maybe it's because mourning is for people to process a death and to reflect on the individual who has gone, while the 'look how I endured' jockeying shifts the focus back to ourselves. We can't just make it about that soul that left our earthly plane. Nope, got to bring it back to how it hurt you, how you suffered, how you felt that pain of loss. This entire switch in mourning going from post-death and focused on the dearly departed to post-death haggling over pre-death actions of others is from our modern medical system. Keeping someone alive on ventilators or struggling through daily pain for just a few more months or a year sets up the game for us to play 'look how I endured'. It's not about an elderly person dying with dignity or on their terms; it's about the family doing enough. We're selfish bastards, and we have the technology and time to play out our drama instead of the finality of a quick death to review a dead person's legacy. While some people use that scientific and pharmaceutical delay of death as a time to come to terms with losing a loved one, many others just use it as another "I'm a victim. Look at me" moment. It's our society. Death is a part of it. We can leave our mark on it as it leaves its mark on us.

2 comments:

Bob said...

I hear what you're saying and can imagine the scenario playing out among SWPL families. The closest my family came to that situation is when my uncle (once removed) was an hour late to the hospital when his siblings were ready to pull the plug on their father. His siblings cut off contact with him after that. I can understand their actions, since my uncle made it seem as if his time was more important than his dying father's last moments. Though to be fair, his father in his state may not have known the difference.

My grandmother's funeral on my father's side was more reflective of the past, though there were shades of modernity. When we heard that she died, the cousins got together for lunch and talked about what a sweet lady she was and reminisced on our better stories with her. When it came time for the funeral, my dad and his siblings made damn sure it was about her, and honored the things in her life that were important to her.

My grandmother was a deeply religious but never condescending woman, and her faith brought a great deal of happiness to her life. She was part of her church choir, and she held on firmly to her faith mostly out of love for my late grandfather. She used to show me pictures of him and tell me "I can't wait to be back with him." During the funeral, there was a lot of emphasis on her faith, and the ceremony involved singing a handful of Christian songs. It's probably what she would have wanted. Some of the relatives in my generation, including my sister, range from atheist to evangelical atheist and were disgusted that they had to sing these songs. All I could think was "Hey assholes, it's not about you. This woman took care of you when you were young and loved us all. Show some fucking respect." I guess you call that a sign of the times.

Son of Brock Landers said...

I am glad your family could keep the focus on the person you all remembered and shared.

My prole side went thru this, but my SWPL side didn't. I've seen too many friends go thru this "what did you do" crap.