Friday, January 14, 2011

In Search of...the right way to mourn

So there I sat last night looking at the open coffin of a man I called Uncle Vinny. No, I don’t actually have an Uncle Vinny, but my friend Anthony does, and since I’ve spent so much time over so many years with his entire family, including Uncle Vinny, I thought it only right to pay my respects.

There were many things that struck me about this wake, but the most overwhelming was the decibel level. It was LOUD. The room was overflowing with family and friends, and none seemed intent on keeping it somber. To the contrary, were it not for the absence of food, it could have been a party, which I’m sure Uncle Vinny would have loved. Oh, rest assured there will be time for solemnity and tears, but for a few hours, it seems more appropriate to reflect on a life that was joy-filled.

Of course, me being me, I had to ponder what I’d like my own funeral to be like. We Jews don’t have people hanging out in front of our coffins for a few days before burial. We’re more a “get ‘em in the ground right away” kind of people. Then there’s time for grieving and, of course, food.

I decided I would like music. Hell, if there’s any way people are going to remember me, shouldn’t it be with what I’ve spent the most time doing? Anthony was getting a little uncomfortable with my enjoyment of this pondering, but me, I like to be prepared.

Just the night before, President Obama spoke at the memorial service in Tucson, and the press had a field day offering up their invaluable opinion of even the minutest detail. I watched with my box of Kleenex at the ready. It was the first time I’d seen our President and First Lady that visibly moved, and I shared their tears. I thought the President’s words were brilliantly chosen, and while the pep rally vibe that the college students provided was a little distracting at first, I was okay with letting everyone be where and how they needed to be at this moment. After all, who am I to judge?

That brings me to the question of mourning. Despite the media’s attempt to give voice to the appropriateness or inappropriateness of anyone’s demeanor, grief is a very private business. Our obsession with voyeurism leads us to believe that there is a right way mourning should take place, but there are countless ways to grieve. Whether it is the loud wails of a newly widowed spouse, left to lead a life they never imagined alone, or the parents of a child who honor her by speaking of her virtues, and interests, and magnificence, or the silence of those for whom there are no utterances possible, they are all valid ways in which we each privately cope. I frequently choose to write, sobbing as I type, letting my tears imbue my words with meaning that surely they do not have on their own.

These are turbulent times we're living in, and I say whatever gets you through the day and on to the next one, that’s what you should do. So if you happen to be grieving right now for whatever reasons you are, I wish you comfort and solace and a return to lighthearted joy as soon as you're ready for it.

And as for Uncle Vinny, rest in peace. It was a pleasure knowing you.

Thanks for stopping by, dear readers. Please tell your friends.

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