Funerals are not usually occasions where men in bright uniforms tuck assault rifles under their arms and march in rigid steps. Nor are they occasions where muscular, beautiful horses trot in a funeral procession with the hearse carrying the dearly departed as men wearing bearskin hats follow in order.
But when the occasion was the final trip of Queen Elizabeth II, who sat on her throne for 70 years, the funeral cortège was spectacular, lengthy, and contained touching reactions from the audience. How many of us have heard clapping when a hearse went by?
Yes, people threw flowers, although I don’t recall that happened when President John F Kennedy’s hearse was drawn down the streets of Washington D.C. to the cemetery where he would rest. But there was that one, shining black riderless horse (Black Jack) with the riding boots turned backward.
These final displays may seem untoward in a world beset by war, famine and pandemics, but they have a place in our lives and are necessary. I’ve written about the grieving process and how I disagree with the poorly researched perspective of Kubler-Ross.
Here I want to look at how the way we grieve has a place for each of us, regardless of where we live or how we signal a death, or do or do not practice religion. In fact, a sense of a nation’s loss might be a better way to describe some forms of grieving.
Each person’s death is a loss for a nation, but it may not be recognized in anything but a family and friends gathering. But the nation has lost, too. Therefore do not send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. Perhaps it isn’t Big Ben that tolled each minute for the Queen’s age or procession, but a bell within us that tells us we have lost something precious tolls. Our bell is grief.
Queen Elizabeth II has been quoted as saying that grief is the price we pay for love, and if we place it in that view, grief is proper, respectful, and loving. Today, much to my dismay, we have a new psychiatric disorder, prolonged grief disorder.
While I understand that grief is a part of life and the living must go on living, I’m not sure how we should put a cap on grief and not see it as a major depressive disorder instead. Is it useful?
How would a psychiatrist treat it since most psychiatrists are not trained in therapy but rather psychopharmacology? Should we medicate grief? I’ll leave it to the great minds in the field to figure out.
The process of mourning that we’ve witnessed for Queen Elizabeth II is similar in some ways to how the nation mourned when President Kennedy was assassinated. People wept in the streets even though they’d never met him, and they have done the same for the Queen, whom the great majority never met in person.
There was also a quietness in major cities where, over a weekend, the country waited for the emotional release of the Kennedy funeral. Until the cortege made its way to Arlington National Cemetery, it felt like the country was holding its breath. It was, it has been reported, the same in London during Queen Elizabeth II days of mourning.
Days of mourning in countries and families are set aside for special services and memorials — all of which help to provide a sense of freeing us from some of the psychic pain of our grief. When we mourn with others, it creates a closeness that can be comforting and provide a sense of acceptance for our grief.
Not all cultures view remaining quiet as their way of mourning, and that’s fine. Whatever your culture says is the way it is traditionally appropriate is okay. Some will drink and dance; others will regale at the quirks of the departed and treasure the life that was. Mirrors will be covered, food will be brought, and life will go on. I’ve attended several repasts, and each stirred a sense of life in the participants.
Despite — or perhaps because of — the pain, disability, and life disruption associated with bereavement, many individuals experience enormous growth and development throughout the grief process. As Thomas Mann (18751955) said, “A man’s dying is more the survivors’ affair than his own.”