The Tucson Memorial Service: Why did People Applaud?

Like millions of other Americans, I turned on the television to watch the memorial service for the victims of the Tucson rampage.  The service opened with music, as many traditional services do, and President and Mrs. Obama bowed their heads as the symphony orchestra played the Copeland fanfare.

Then things began to change.  People, approximately 24,000 of them,  began to applaud points the speakers made.  “You shouldn’t applaud at a memorial service,” I commented to my husband, who was sitting beside me.

“No, you shouldn’t, he agreed.

As the service progressed, I realized this wasn’t an ordinary memorial service.  Somehow, it had evolved into something else.  I come from a religious and spiritual tradition that encourages participation at memorial services.  The attendees sing hymns together, join in responsive readings, pray and meditate as a group.

Depending on the wishes of family members, there may be a time in the service when people share stories about the deceased.  Some stories are heart-wrenching and others are humorous.  All of these elements – stories, prayers, meditation, responsive readings, and hymns – bring mourners together.  But the Tucson service, moving as it was, didn’t contain any of these elements.

Applause was the only way people could participate.

People wanted to show caring for the fallen and support the wounded.  They wanted to support the people of Tucson, the state of Arizona, and America.  “We are here!” the applause seemed to say.  “We mourn with you.”  “We will get through this together.”

President Obama’s speech touched my heart.  Speech writers and political experts think he planned a speech for a traditional service and adjusted it to the mood of the crowd.  I don’t know if this is true.  But I know his ending about living up to our children’s dreams and expectations was right for the moment.  “We can do better,” President Obama declared.

Mrs. Obama was visibly moved by the service and close-ups revealed the tears in her eyes.  She bowed her head several times to get her feelings under control; at least, this is how her actions appeared to me.

I’m a grandmother and have attended many memorial services in my lifetime.  Never have I seen a service like this one.  Unlike some, who describe the service as a pep rally, I think it was something different – a unique and American moment.  It was time to come together, time to start the healing process, time for hope.

When the memorial service was over, I asked myself, “How could I do better?”  You may have asked yourself the same question.  Though my answer may not be the same as yours, we have one thing in common: We grieve for our loved ones.  Each of us has the power to make something good from grief and for me, it is writing books.

The pain of multiple losses has made me more aware of the miracle of life.  In my 70s, I feel blessed to be here, and live each day to the fullest.  I’m making the most of my miracle.

Harriet Hodgson 2011

Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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