Have we abandoned our ability to mourn?

Jack Layton’s funeral was not moving — it was one of those “celebrations of life” in which as a dead man’s body was borne out, people were singing and clapping. To me, Layton’s own daughter looked a bit bewildered. Her father was dead. Why were these people so happy?

Jack Layton’s funeral was not moving — it was one of those “celebrations of life” in which as a dead man’s body was borne out, people were singing and clapping.

To me, Layton’s own daughter looked a bit bewildered. Her father was dead. Why were these people so happy?

This incongruity recurs many times these days when old fashioned “sad” funerals are deemed to be somehow inappropriate. Why cry? They’re dead. You’re alive. Be happy. Be controlled.

But what of sorrow?

What of catharsis?

It seems instead of the natural ebbs and flows of life that we once experienced through dramatic and cathartic funeral rituals we now turn to detox herbal remedies, spas and saunas to cleanse us from within – when maybe we really just need a good cry.

Likewise Jack’s legacy command — be optimistic. It lacks the real cathartic and inventive value of failure and pessimism.

Optimism is a good thing — it helps us press on. But pessimism is equally important — it helps us think straight and think twice.

SKEPTIC magazine ran an item shortly after the global economic crash of 2008 which focussed on how the blind optimism that shrouded conversations in many large investment houses meant that pessimists were literally kicked out of the discussion for being ‘too down’ and ‘not in touch with reality’.

What is needed in life is both a pessimist’s view to think out Plan A, B and C to save the day — and an optimist’s energy to work to fix it.

Likewise Jack asked that there not be divisive politics. But politics are divisive by nature. That’s also how we get things done — by the give, take, challenge and counter proposals that make the daily life of politicians in democracy.

Pol Pot and Stalin’s regimes were not divisive. No thanks.

Further tributes to Jack Layton called upon Canadians to be “better” and to look for the good in each person. I say, in this day of terrorism and global strife, we must be the opposite.

We should be just the way we Canadians are — on balance we are pretty “good” already — and we should be both open and very suspicious when entering into any encounters, personal or national.

Lots of things have been going sideways lately. To adopt a Pollyanna naivety will not make us better; it will make us marks. But I digress.

It seemed like everyone had quite a good time at Jack Layton’s state funeral, the only thing that was missing was the true respect for the dead.

Sorrow. Deep sorrow. Loss of one’s fellow man. Acknowledgement that this bell tolls for all.

That catharsis of tears, however unpleasant it seems for those who typically seek to be in control, is what makes us human and what also honours those who will not taste the salt of tears, or the sweetness of life again.

Mourning is the healer, detoxifier; the blade that lances the abscess filled with the infection of sorrow and drains away what otherwise will fester within as depression or anhedonia.

We are the animal distinguished by our tears. Funerals were meant to evoke them, the act of witnessing the sorrow of others is recognized as a healing process in psychology. It is so much less expensive and much more profound to do this in a group at a real funeral than later individually at the therapists.

You’ll feel sad . . .but aren’t you?

Crying and sorrow at a funeral are congruent with reality. But we’ve kind of lost touch with that too. Always celebrating. Don’t worry. Be happy.

Michelle Stirling-Anosh is a Ponoka-based freelance columnist.

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