I first really comprehended the seduction of collective grief thirty years ago when John Lennon was murdered in 1980. In fact, as I write these words it is December 8, 2010, thirty years to the day that John Lennon was senselessly murdered. I was shocked and stunned when I heard the news. Throughout the day I talked about it to everyone. Akin to the experience of 9-11-2001 many years later, it consumed my thoughts throughout the day and weeks that followed. I was in a very subtle by pervasive cloud of sadness and despair. That is collective grief, the response to our collective loss.
When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I was 8 years old and I still remember the hysteria on television that took over our country. I saw grown men cry that did not even know him. The next year, in 1964, I saw women on TV screaming and crying while listening to a live performance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. I even thought to myself back then how weird on both counts for people to react with such high charged emotions for a person they don’t even know.
I saw the nation gripped again in 1968 when Martin Luther King was assassinated, and I witnessed the groundswell of grief and the rage of injustice that his loss created in this country. In those years and many others we lost Marylyn Monroe, James Dean, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Rock Hudson and more. We had the mass tragedies of The Viet Nam War, Oklahoma City bombings, 911, a plethora of school shootings, Hurricane Katrina and many more national and global losses in staggering numbers. Collectively people mourn, yet not having known the person at all, only knowing of them.
In 1997, Mother Teresa and Princess Diana died within days of each other; Princess Diana’s death far overshadowed that of Mother Teresa worldwide. Oddly enough which is what Mother Teresa would have preferred, but clearly shows the how a society acts based upon notoriety as well. We nationally and globally mourn as a school of fish who together turn abruptly or as the flock of geese change formation together, we do it from a deep common bond. We recognize the pain in each other at a deep level and it amplifies our energy in a way that we are synergized; symbiotically, we nurture one another, we kiss the boo-boo that hurts our each other’s soul without thought or intent; it is pure action on a heart level.
Elizabeth Edwards lost her 16-year-old son from something she beyond her means to control; years later, she loses her marriage as well. Her life, her book …has inspired the bereaved American people, especially the bereaved parent. She has credibility as one who speaks her mind, and has been to depths of despair that one should never know.
This woman fought the fight, but did not survive, and she now joins her son. Of course, reticent to leave her other children, she believed in a reunion with her son, a belief which nurtures peaceful acceptance. Elizabeth did a lot to give recognition to the bereaved parent/family and the complexity of their journey. Her experience, her love, has helped countless others on their journey.
I am so glad as a country that we grieve for her loss publicly and collectively, not only because of her notoriety but because of her heart. Her husband’s name may fade from people’s memories but hers will not.
Mitch Carmody 2010