Saturday, January 23, 2010

Some people I love have just lost someone they love. They are, of course, in my thoughts. But there's really not much one can do except remind people that you love them and do whatever small tokens you can.

It got me thinking. however, about mourning. And how it has changed over the years.

In her fascinating book This Republic of Suffering author Drew Gilpin Faust write how the massive loss of life during the Civil War colored our view of funerals and loss. She writes eloquently about elaborate rites and humble services, and how the nation dealt with losing so many of its sons and brothers.

Throughout history, humankind has handled the dead with everything from great monuments to mass graves. But the feelings of those left behind are universal. As we watch poor, tragic Haiti deal with its devastation and as I contemplate one loss to one family I love, it occurs to me how unfair death is now. Not because we handle funerals any differently, but because we handle mourning so callously.

Gone are the days when a black armband signified bereavement, signaling to the world (without words) to treat the wearer with kindness. Black curtains used to mark a house in mourning. Servants would place hay on the street so the sound of carriages and horses would be muffled, thereby lessening the distractions of an uncaring world. Women, as evidenced by Queen Victoria, would dress in black so the whole would would know that a loss had happened. And all this would make the world go gently on the survivors.

But none of that exists today. The world goes on, loud and unknowning. When you lose someone you love you find it hard to believe that the rest of the world hasn't stopped. That people in the grocery store are just as rude. That other drivers may honk at you because you're distracted at a red light. You lose someone dear to you and, because life must go on, you find yourself at the drug store for more tissues or aspirin and you don't understand why strangers aren't nicer to you. Don't they know you've got a broken heart?

No, they don't. Because outward signs of loss are no longer part of our world. The only obvious signs you see anymore are women wailing on CNN or an incomprehensible loss of life due to a natural disaster. But the simple, personal, everyday losses are ignored in the wake of the modern world.

I wish black armbands were still in fashion. I wish there was some way of knowing that the sad-looking woman at the gas station is staring unseeingly at the pump because she's just about to drive to her brother's funeral. I want to be kind to those of have lost someone they love. But I cannot recognize them.

Which seems strange. Because I know what it is to lose a loved one. And you'd think there would be some sort of unspoken kinship. A sort of I remember that look -- I saw it on my own face when I looked in the mirror when my best friend died.

I send my love to my friends. And to Haiti. And to all those who are wearing invisible black armbands. Because we should all tread gently around them.


Kittie Howard said...

First, condolences to you and your friends. And thank you, Decca, for putting into such beautiful words what my husband I lamented the other night when the news anchor briefly announced that the Marines would be out of Iraq. All these years later and so many dead or wounded and there's no way of knowing who's been directly affected, who lost a son/daughter...and, as you said, life goes on as if nothing ever happened. Sad. Sad. Sad.

FinnyKnits said...

What a poignant topic. That feeling of, "How can you all just be going through the McDonald's drive-thru right now as though my uncle didn't JUST die?" has definitely plagued me.

Like, everyone else's world is all normal and happy even though yours is falling apart.

It's an interesting observation on modern society that we'll gather together to support a country in need, but I wonder whether we're as supportive of, say, US-based Haitians who've lost someone in the earthquake there.

I mean, *that* could be the woman absentmindedly missing a stoplight.

Anyway, compelling topic and it's totally true.

We should bring back the armbands. Or, you know, we can all pad around in socks like my relatives.