FACEBOOK FUNERALS; Car Accidents, Killings, Suicides. It Seems Children Have Never Had So Much Loss to Confront. but with So Much Public Emoting and Outpouring of Grief on the Internet, GER PHILPOTT Asks, Are We Allowing Children to Become Desensitised to Death? SATURDAY ESSAY
Byline: by Ger Philpott
My first encounter with grief as a child - the death of a childhood friend's grandmother - was mediated through a tight-knit community. And family. My best friend Annette and I were struck by how like a marble statue her dead grandmother's body felt to touch when we kissed her cold forehead.
We were permitted to pay our respects for a few minutes when her grandmother was formally laid out. At the time we couldn't quite make sense of the sensation. And it occupied much of our subseqruent pre-teen conversations. We often referenced the experience during our liberal, yet, cosseted childhoods. My next encounter with death and dying was my own elderly grandmother's death when I was in my early 20s.
The recent carnage on our roads, shocking deadly acts of violence in our society, and suicide have contributed significantly to the problem of teenage grief in Ireland. Violent and tragic death leaves an indelible mark. My family lives with the aftermath of such an event. It sets you apart. No one would choose this, but life's curved balls remove any element of choice. I live with the consequences and it is a difficult journey. The lot of the bereft means that seams of grief can erupt at any time. It's inescapable. I am, I realise, far too familiar with grief.
An unwelcome companion at any age, grief is particularly hard on the young. And this is compounded when a young person grieves for a contemporary. If the circumstance of their loss is tragic, bereavement can be overwhelming. Apart from infancy, there is no other period, so full of change as adolescence. The death of a friend, then, can be a particularly devastating experience during this already difficult period. Often the deceased will have played a role in the development of fragile self-identites. And feelings about death can remain a part of the survivors' life forever. Eventually, with hindsight, experiencing the loss of someone who was loved can be a chance for young people to learn about both the joy and pain that comes from caring deeply for others.
BUT the grief that teens experience often comes suddenly and unexpectedly. A brother or sister may be killed in a motor accident, or a friend may commit suicide. Or be murdered. The very nature of these deaths often results in a prolonged and heightened sense of unreality. And while teens may begin to look like 'men' or 'women', physical developa ment does not always equal emotional maturity. As they do their mourning they need consistent and compassionate support.
The nature of violent and tragic deaths attracts significant public interest. To that extent people, often unrelated to the deceased, strangely, feel a sense of ownership. In ways the death becomes public fodder and people feel they have the right to participate in what properly is a private matter. But the rituals built up around death have evolved to serve a purpose. They carry the bereaved through a difficult time. Tradition observes solemnity and preserves a silent dignity. It is balm for the anguish and pain experienced by surviving loved ones. Undoubtedly, when a tragedy is lived out in the public sphere a family's grief can be robbed of dignity.
Earlier this week the priest who delivered the homily at young Michaela Davis's funeral described a child, 'Like any other 12-year-old. Full of chat, energy and eager for life'. He likened her to a sunflower that grew too quickly and was 'vulnerable' to outside forces. 'She pushed the boundaries. She wanted to grow fast and quick', the priest added. Her friends spoke of how 'someone we love has been taken from us'. The procession of gifts included a school photograph and bar of chocolate. 'We bring our grief, our shock, our pain, our anger, our despair, and fears that overwhelm us', her friends concluded. Clearly, these young people will struggle to make sense of what has happened.
This week RTE's Liveline programme mediated expressions of grief at the demise of Irish actor Mick Lally. …