A Myth About Mourning

Although most of the country was moved by the ceremony held for the victims of the Tucson tragedy, there were some who were critical of the crowd reaction and the president’s alleged “failure” to calm it . Some suggested that the cheers heard in the Arizona assembly were more fitting for a pep rally than a memorial service.

I disagree. It is a myth that funeral services should be exclusively solemn in tone. Indeed, after five days of horror and tears, Arizonans, as well as the rest of us, needed a reason to cheer and the President provided it. Consider the Roman Catholic mass for the dead. It’s not called the mass of sorrow, it’s called the mass of the Resurrection. Or, have you ever been to a traditional Irish wake… many tears and many laughs.

As a therapist, I know that to simply dwell exclusively on pain and sorrow can actually deepen the depression of one’s mood. Grieving which leads to healing includes not only experiencing pain but also a sense of joy which comes from the rediscovery of hope and the awareness that there is more to life than loss.

To regain a sense of a positive future, one must also regain a larger vision than one’s own personal pain. The President helped us to recapture that larger perspective. The enthusiastic response of the crowd was simply evidence that his words were spot- on.

The president in his demeanor and with his powerful oratory, acknowledged the shock and pain, the loss and tragedy but then called upon each of us to not turn on one another but to rise above our pain and act in healing not antagonistic ways. President Obama reminded us that we share a common humanity and spirit and that we will not be crushed by tragedy or give in to evil. This moment is an opportunity for all of us to renew our commitment to strive as individuals and as nation – including our government – to live up to the ideals of our republic.
Far from inappropriate, the assembly’s (and our nation’s) reaction to the President demonstrated the impact great leadership can have on a grieving people. Wednesday’s assembly in Arizona was exactly what the mourners and our nation needed and our cheering response, far from inappropriate, demonstrated the resiliency of our spirit.

Rev. Michael Heath Fayetteville, NY 1 14 2011