Why the rituals of grief matter | Katharine Whitehorn

The bunches of flowers on the railings where the cyclist crashed. The desperate search for information when someone has died abroad. The painstakingly written obituary. A determination that the one who caused the accident be brought to book. There are so many ways of reacting to death.

It is easy to understand that those who believe in a religious afterlife are comforted by the hope that death is not the end. Going through the rituals, the traditional ways of expressing faith, provides the comfort of seeming to ensure that all will be well. But why has it seemed so important that those killed in the MH17 aeroplane disaster should have their bodies returned to their families? I think it’s for the same reason that planning a memorial service helps one to get through the first ghastly days, or writing a carefully researched obituary, or doing everything your culture suggests to show respect. It’s not just a question of duty; all such things help you cope with your grinding misery – because you feel you are still doing something for the person who has died.

Joyce Grenfell wrote: “If I should die before the rest of you/ Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone/ Nor when I’m gone speak in a Sunday voice/But be the usual friends that I have known.” Yes, but breaking the flower and inscribing the stone or bringing the bodies to be entombed with love and honour may go some way towards keeping people sane during those first desolate months.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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