There are several different ways that people publicly grieve. Here are few I’ve noticed that seem especially modern. Many seem counterproductive to the healing process. Many seem to exacerbate and prolong grieving.
Commemorating relative’s deaths on Facebook. Every year we hear when their relatives were born or died. Sometimes the birthday post will say “Happy Birthday Mom! You would have been 87 years old today!” Is it suitable to wish happy birthday to someone who has died? Mom has been dead for 20 years. Many of the people who are their friends never even met their Mom.
The side of the road memorials. These often have crosses with the person’s name on it and some fake flowers. Is that where the person died? Was there a car crash? Is this meant to warn others that this is a dangerous area and to drive safely? Is it legal to put private roadside memorials on public property? Could the memorial itself become a safety hazard by distracting someone? How long is too long to leave one of these up? When did this start? These have not always been.
The stickers on the car – “In loving memory of (insert name here)”. These are very large, some of which cover the entire back window of the car. Sometimes there is a profile of praying hands or of Jesus. Often there are birth and death dates. There is a possibility that the sticker itself could be a hazard to the driver, making it hard to see when they are changing lanes. The people on the road most likely did not know that person. How is this message relevant or helpful to them?
Tattoos for the dead. Either with birthdates and death dates, or an image of the person, or both.
Many of these different public memorials are designed to be permanent. Sure, we want to remember the dead. To not remember them and what they meant to you is to make it as if they didn’t exist. But is it helpful to grieve forever? It is meaningful to show your grief to complete strangers? They don’t know your loved one. Is it a way of saying that your grief is worse, because you are showing it off? We all have loved ones who have died. It seems that to have a public display of grief indicates that you feel that others do not grieve.
Grief is a long and difficult process, and Western society does not have a very healthy relationship with it. This is the same society that doesn’t even acknowledge death as a natural part of life. The dying process is seen as an aberration or something to be treated. No wonder our grieving has no set pattern for beginning, middle, and end. No wonder it gets so messy.
I’m not questioning the need to grieve. I’m questioning the need to grieve publicly and permanently. Is that healthy? Is it productive? Is it fair to everyone else?