Magazine article The Christian Century

Grief and Loss: A Death Observed

Magazine article The Christian Century

Grief and Loss: A Death Observed

Article excerpt

The obituaries have become one of my favorite sections of the paper. I enjoy the little stories that emerge from the obits -- stories about a man who taught public school for 50 years, for example, or about someone who became the first woman to serve as alderman. I have no personal connection with most of the subjects, so I don't really grieve over their deaths. And I also like the obits because they leave out the bad stuff, the disappointments, the dreams unrealized, the mistakes made and the sins committed.

That wasn't the case with the massive media coverage of the death of Princess Diana. We knew a great deal about her -- not only about her story-book wedding, her role as mother of a future king and her support of worthy causes, but also about the bad or messy stuff -- her difficult divorce, her eating disorder, her adulterous affair and her romance with a man reputed t o be a playboy. Then, suddenly, she is gone.

Few of those who cried, threw flowers or signed condolence books ever actually met her. We knew Diana only through her image in the media. But the world grieved over her death, reacting first, as one should, in anger at whoever was responsible. Initially the anger was focused on the paparazzie who chased her, then on the tabloids who paid the paparazzi for their photographs of her, the more intimate the better. There was also anger at the driver of the Mercedes in the fatal crash, who reportedly was intoxicated. Finally, there was anger at the royal family for what appeared to be insufficient grief at Diana's death.

All this anger, while understandable, was misplaced. Our real anger was at death itself. When a figure as young, popular and public as Diana dies suddenly, something is snatched away from us. There is no reason to decry the anger and grief as inauthentic. Death does evoke a spirit of common grief. Any death diminishes the whole, and an early death, a senseless and preventable death, evokes the angry response that this should not have happened, and because it did happen, something has been taken away from us.

Though the outpouring of grief was focused on Diana, our real grief sprang from our own experience of loss or potential loss. The young woman trying to slip away from persistent photographers could be our daughter, sister or closest friend, snatched away without warning. There was no time for a final touch or a forgiving word. It is not her celebrity that drew the world together in grief; it was that she was someone who, it seems, should not die. Her death is a constant reality, ever threatening and rarely resolved. …

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