The older we get, the more we have to face the fact that death is creeping closer and closer. In general, a good death in the United States is one that involves old age, minimal suffering, and at least some expectation. We know that death is inevitable, and the longer a person lives, the more it seems they’ve had a “full” life. This makes the occurrence of death easier to swallow. When death suddenly pounces upon the unsuspecting victim, sinking its teeth into youth, our society is unprepared. We are taken aback, thrown off balance, and left in a state of shock. If this kind of death is mixed with injustice, it makes for a powerful combination of circumstances. My former classmate, 16 year old Christina Lembo, embodies this image of a very “bad death”.
Christina Lembo, a junior this year at Bloomfield High School in Bloomfield, NJ, was tragically seized from life on Saturday, September 29th. Though I did not personally know her, I know several people who did. She is described as an athletic student who was “smart,” “talented,” and “so sweet and loving and kind.” She was young, healthy, and full of life with a promising future. According to our culture, this shocking end to her life was not supposed to happen yet, and not like this. It was too unexpected. What makes matters worse is that it was completely out of her control. A car suspected of drag racing abruptly crashed into the car in which she was a passenger. Someone else’s mindless decision cost a vibrant young woman everything.
In instances like this it is not enough to study grief and death rituals from a purely anthropological academic viewpoint. An anthropological viewpoint, however, helps one understand and recognize how the healing process can begin. Culturally accepted rituals that tell us how to handle a situation like this give us guidance in how to grieve. They tell us what is acceptable to do and/or say, and therefore give us the freedom to begin healing. The biggest example of this can be seen in the vigil held for Christina on Broughton Ave, the street where the accident occurred. The vigil is a ritualistic way for the community to come together and publicly mourn over this beautiful young student. It is a way in which support is created to all who are in need. This vigil is also a way of showing that, though Christina is physically dead, she is not socially dead. I have a feeling that, due to the nature of this tragedy, Christina will remain socially alive for a very long time.
More information about Christina Lembo can be found here.