Archive for the ‘Bereavement’ Category

Do grief and bereavement need more structure?

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

I referenced this article yesterday, Mourning in America: Whitney Houston and the Social Speed of Grief.

Though the article was prompted by the death of Whitney Houston, the first part of the article describes the cultural support people used to get when they were grieving. It’s startling to see how drastically things have changed and it made me wonder if we’ve lost something that might be useful in the support of people who are grieving.

I’m a big advocate of allowing your grief to lead the way, but I wonder if we get rather lost in the process when we don’t have anything to anchor us. Without some structure, we run the risk of either shutting down entirely or drowning under the weight of chaotic emotion that accompanies grief.

So read this article and let me know what you think in the comments. How much structure is enough? How much is too much? Too little?

In England in the late 19th century, death was a highly ritualized affair. Wives were expected to wear special dresses — black, conservative, often accessorized with “weeping veils” — for up to four years following the death of their husbands; if you’d lost a sister or brother, six months of mourning garb was the norm. “Full mourning” (lasting for a year and a day after the death), “second mourning” (the nine months after that), and “half mourning” (the three-six months after that) weren’t suggestions or ironies; they were phases to be followed, and strictly.

To modern sensibilities, the whole idea of mourning suits and widows’ weeds seems extremely quaint and ridiculously confining and, overall, just what it is: Victorian. But the clothes and the strict guidelines for donning and doffing them were part of a larger purpose, which was to create a framework, an agreed-upon system of customs and rituals, that people could turn to amid the chaos of a death. The formal observance of a loss — whether for seven days or four years — carved a space for mourning that fit, by communal fiat, into the life of the community in question. By giving people an agreed-upon period of bereavement, the rituals also gave them, implicitly, an agreed-upon time to move on.

Mourning is murkier now. It is less regulated, less public, less prescribed…

Read more of Mourning in America: Whitney Houston and the Social Speed of Grief

Susan FullerSusan L. Fuller

P.S. How to Survive Your Grief isn’t really about providing structure as in a step by step roadmap for grief, but it was written to provide a bit of anchor while you’re being buffeted by the storm of early grief.

Whitney Houston – Bereavement in the Public Eye

Monday, February 13th, 2012

How does public bereavement like that of Whitney Houston, and the short news cycle impact our private grief?
From the beginning, the camera and I were great friends. It loves me, and I love it. --- Whitney Houston
I hadn’t really considered this question until I read Mourning in America: Whitney Houston and the Social Speed of Grief today. Megan Garber points out that less than 48 hours after her death, Whitney Houston is old news at least on Twitter.

I’m not sure that’s true for every media outlet but it does seem to be true on Twitter where 140 characters have created one second attention spans. I can’t blame Twitter for that phenomena entirely but is is part of an ever increasing cultural pressure to think fast, feel fast and act fast.

While the Twitterverse may be tiring of the subject, main stream news outlets will manage to keep it going for weeks, months and even years if it possibly can (think Michael Jackson).

It’s interesting to consider how both extremes, the super short burst of responsiveness and the prolonged playing out of personal drama in the public eye, have impacted our response to personal losses and the grief that follows.

In every group on grief, you’ll readily find people complaining about the pressure they experience to move on long before they feel ready. You will also find many people who say they’re “trying to be strong” as if this is what’s really expected of them. It’s disturbing to think maybe it has become a cultural expectation.

At the same time you will find way too many people experiencing a prolonged and incomplete grief, unable to make sense of their loss and unable to move back into the flow of life…ever.

My personal feeling is these two extremes are connected. The lack of permission to grieve early on leads to this incomplete, debilitating and unending grief so many seem to be experiencing many years after their loss.

I’ve often complained about how uneducated about grief we are as a culture but maybe it isn’t so much that we’re uneducated as we are miseducated by the media because of how public bereavement is portrayed.

Maybe those who are grieving are trying to live up to a public myth that’s similar to the body image issues many women experience from the ongoing exposure to retouched and altered images of supermodels.

Maybe it’s not so much grief education we need as media education. Maybe what we really need is to learn how to stop defining ourselves through the media mythology that emerges from the demands of a 24 hours news cycle which also demands it all be as sensational and extreme as possible.

How do you think media coverage of public losses has shaped your response to your own grief or those around you?

Would love to hear what you think below.

Susan FullerSusan L. Fuller

Funeral home drive-thru windows offer convenient grieving

Monday, June 27th, 2011

funeral home

Quick passing

Several funeral homes in the United States have drive-thru windows to serve rushed mourners or those stressed by the parlor experience. “Not quite as emotional,” said one visitor to the Robert L. Adams Mortuary in Compton, Calif., referring to the need not to linger in the queue of bereaved, idling motorists.

From: Funeral home drive-thru windows offer convenient grieving

Photo Credit: Felipe Rafael Caczan

Now there’s a concept…convenient grieving!

Death and bereavement are never convenient, and funerals are emotional affairs. So what? I find trying to slither out of supporting the bereaved via drive-thru unsettling at best and unconscionable at worst.

This is just another manifestation of the ‘hurry up and get over it” message so prevalent in our culture. Anyone who has lost someone they love, knows what I’m talking about. Now we’re supposed to sanitize the funeral so no one will be the least bit stressed by attending?

Not only is it not supportive, it’s selfish. I certainly understand feeling uncomfortable with visiting hours. I can’t say it’s my favorite thing to do either but do we not have an obligation to show up and offer support?

As a culture we have become unnaturally disconnected from death, and it doesn’t serve us in any way. Death is a part of life, and in trying to deny it, we end up diminishing every part of life including the happiness and joy.

Talk soon,

Susan FullerSusan L. Fuller