A recent article in the New York Times  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/10/nyregion/ready-for-less-tearful-future-newtown-is-declining-tributes.html?pagewanted=all reported that the residents of Newtown, CT wished to stop participating in offers of events and memorials from outside groups in the interest of moving “into a quiet period, of rest, recuperation, and healing.”

Public mourning and memorials are not new. They do appear to be more frequent and “in your face” as we sadly encounter more mass tragedy and as we face a 24 hour news cycle that reports not only the tragedy but the responses and memorials that come from it. The public, not directly affected by the deaths in a mass tragedy, is often traumatized, shocked and grieving. The public’s focus of grief may not be as intensely on the death of the individuals who lose their lives or are maimed. While there may be sadness at loss as we mourn individuals, for the public there is also mourning the loss of trust and sense of security.

Of course, the individuals, who have directly lost loved ones will have the grief work and mourning of the loss of loved family members, friends or colleagues.

Public expression of grief is important for a society as much as grieving by individuals is important or their own reckoning with loss. We have many examples of public mourning and memorials. We have holidays dedicated to veterans and soldiers from wars. In the past it seems these markings have been solemn and public but not forced on the bereaved by massive publicity from media. Those wishing to participate could and those needing more privacy could have it as well.   

Some current public memorializing has a secondary purpose. Large events are designed and publicized to raise much needed monies for victims and families’ funeral and medical expenses. So, in addition to memorializing these losses there is an important charitable aspect. Politicians and others use such events to promote agendas for better or worse. If managed appropriately the potential for exploitation should be minimal but always watched for.

Yet it seems as though there needs to be great sensitivity to not overly prolonging and reminding the public or individual grieving people of the negative and tragic losses. Such can only set people back, prolong sadness, and interfere with letting go and moving forward.

A rule of thumb in helping in private mourning is to offer and organize help but then to allow the bereaved to accept or reject it while rechecking periodically. It is also generally accepted that public memorializing of private grief will shift to the families of the bereaved and become more personal as the public moves on.

What makes public mourning more painful over time is the difficulty for those who are ready to move on to get away from intense visualizations on television, at concerts, sporting events. One cannot always change the channel, leave the, stadium, etc. As I write this I do not propose a solution, but I believe we need to examine our public response and how long we continue to relive events beyond what is therapeutic and avoid what sells or is exploitative. 

A friend summarized his feelings succinctly.  "I'm in the camp of respectfully recognizing the lives of those who died, pay attention and give recognition to those who were injured, and then move on.  I think the Boston bombing was handled well.  Clean the site up and open it right away.  Don't let the terrorists have a reminder of what they tried to do."

How do you feel about public memorials and their impact on private grief? Please share your thoughts.

10/19/2013 01:05:09 pm

I liked your blog and went ahead and created a weebly blog too!


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    As part of my doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, when information on grief, bereavement, death and dying was scarce, some colleagues and I began group work with the bereaved. Out of that work grew interviews with widowers, training with funeral workers, clergy, social workers, hospice and medical personnel. 

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