Tag Archives: grief and mourning


Pregnancy Loss

In her article, 7 empathy cards for someone who’s lost a pregnancy. Because it’s hard to know what to say, Laura Willard presents the idea of “[acknowledging] the loss of a pregnancy the way we [address] any significant loss.” This is an idea that we have recently discussed in class but this article gives new insight on how to help those who have come face to face with this type of loss. A miscarriage is something that as a society we have a hard time addressing because most people really just don’t know what to do or what to say to those who have faced this type of loss. I am sure that most people understand that this can be a painful and tragic situation but coming up with the right words to say to a couple or individual that has lost a pregnancy can be impossible at times. For this reason, Dr. Jessica Zucker has come up with empathy cards that could be given to those who have lost a pregnancy. These cards sum up the words that many of us have difficulty coming up with. They are suited to all kind of tastes and I love the idea because it really helps bring this problem to light. My personal favorite is the one that finishes off with “I may not always know the right thing to say, but I’m going to try. I love you like crazy.” It perfectly summarizes the “loss for words” problem that surrounds this topic but offers a good approach to ease into the subject.


According to the article, roughly 20% of pregnancies end in loss. That means that one in five couples or individuals face this. That is an overwhelmingly high statistic but to some extent, there is no working around it. As the article says, that’s just molecular biology, in other words, that’s life, or at least the consequences of trying to make it. These cards help “change the culture of conversation – and lack of it – around miscarriage, pregnancy loss, and stillbirth” and will hopefully inspire people to face it with a little more grace.

Link to article: http://www.upworthy.com/7-empathy-cards-for-someone-whos-lost-a-pregnancy-because-its-hard-to-know-what-to-say?c=ufb1

The Funeral Selfie

A fellow archaeology focused student at Tulane found this:


The fad of taking selfies spreads to going to funerals.

As odd as this is. It shows some expected views of grief i.e. some of the girls in the photos frowning, dressing in black, and the captions with “cried off all my makeup”. But it all seems so contrived and the comments on my friend’s post of this were mostly negative concerning these people’s lack of respect for a funeral, or that this is another reason they have lost faith in humanity. Maybe this is another way for grief expression for this generation. It obviously does not fit with many others’ view of grief and expression of it. How do these pictures differ from our prescribed views of how to  grieve and how are they trying to conform?

Two Massacres and No Funeral

We’ve been talking about in class how central the funeral is to the mourning process.  The funeral takes care of the body and gives mourners closure.  So what happens when there is no funeral?

This is unfortunately usually the case in war or genocide.  The dead are piled into mass graves or sometimes just left where they were killed.  Throughout history, the innocent have been massacred and their bodies unceremoniously abandoned.  One example is the recent archaeological discovery of a 5th century massacre in Sweden.  The remains show that the individuals experienced violent deaths and were left where they fell, since the dead were usually cremated during this time period.  Read more here:


Viking Mass Grave http://www.montysworldonline.com/2010/05/viking-mass-grave-excavated.html

Viking Mass Grave

This regrettably still happens all over the world.  It happened during the Holocaust, the genocide in Bosnia and Serbia, and in Liberia.  The massacre in Liberia took place at a refugee camp twenty years ago, with the victims dumped into an unmarked mass grave.  Action is only being taken now to bring the perpetrators to justice.


The victims of these massacres are not cared for after death by their loved ones.  They did not get the ceremony they wanted or that their beliefs mandated.  Their loved ones did not get to say good-bye to their deceased.  What happened in these communities? How did they deal with their loss?  How did their community not break down in the absence of this most important rite of passage?

I think that when something this terrible happens, the community just has to reset and move on.  Since the violent situation often makes it impossible to loved ones to go back and claim the bodies of their deceased, people just have to accept it and move on.  This sounds rather harsh but I think that this is the community’s survival mechanism.  If they tried to go back and claim the bodies for a funeral, it would take a very long time or they could be killed themselves.  They have to come to terms with the fact that they won’t be able to care for the body as they wish and they must honor them in some other way.

The lack of a funeral tends to lend itself to the building of a memorial monument, such as the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.  When individuals of a community can’t honor their own dead, the community honors them collectively, thus giving the mourners closure and the dead their respect.

Freedom to Worship? Shooting of Pastor in Worship Service Causing Grief and Bereavement for All


Is it true that religion, or the church is to be a “safe haven” for individuals, a place where they can go and experience freedom and peace? Not for this Louisiana congregation on September 29th, 2013, as Pastor Ronald J. Harris, Sr. of Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center was shot and killed in the middle of a worship service. This situation is disturbing not only because it is yet another case of gun violence, but because this is a horribly “bad” death, and social and moral lines have been crossed yet again. These questions that comes to mind is: is anywhere safe? Shouldn’t the church be exempt from these heartless killings?


For many, the church is they go in order to bury their dead or grieve the loss of the dead. For the congregation of Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center, the church was where they witness the violent death of their pastor. Culturally this is unheard of and is a horrifying death for all involved. The suspect, Woodrow Karey, was said to have been an ex-deacon for Tabernacle of Praise who left the church more than 5 years ago. The reason for this aggression is unknown and has left the entire congregation, especially the victim’s children and grandchildren reeling and confused. Despite his death his daughter continued to speak highly of him, even after death- His 31 year-old-daughter spoke of his saint like qualities, and said that he would say to his gunman, “I forgive you and I love you.”

This type of death goes beyond ethical boundaries for me. The church should be a place where they experience life, not death. This tragedy meets multiple criteria of a bad death: it was unexpected, in a public place, a result of great violence, and “unwarranted.” This pastor was greatly loved and respected in the community, and ‘m sure  is a tragic experience to witness your spiritual leader shot twice and killed in front of you. In putting myself in the shoes of a witness of the shooting, I would be both scared and enraged. What would make a man come into a church service and kill a man, who was in the act of worshiping, in front of everyone, even women and children? The question is why? Why would someone do such a thing?

Well, that is what everyone in this Louisiana church is wondering as well. We live in a culture where we want to know the cause of death and it is important in the mourning process to know this information. It brings about closure. It is also these type of violent deaths that cause a great grief and a sense of bereavement among those who loved the victim. In this case, not only his family will experience great loss, but the church immediately is without a pastor. This causes a great sense of functional loss as well as an emotional loss as well for those who knew this pastor. Thoughts?






Several months ago I saw Gus Van Sant’s 2011 movie Restless for the first time. I admit I was originally drawn to it because Henry Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s son, was playing one of the leads and I was curious as to what the son of director and costar of Easy Rider fame would bring to the big screen. As I watched, however, my attention was drawn to the presence of death in the film and the differences in the way those who have to face their own passing and those who have to face the death of a loved one deal with it.
Restless follows the story of two young adults, Enoch and Annabel, who both have had more than their faire share of experience with death. After meeting at a funeral Annabel was attending and Enoch crashing, the two develop a relationship. However, because Annabel is suffering from a brain tumor the two are only projected to have three months together, during which time they are forced to come to terms with Annabel’s imminent death.
Annabel has a calm understanding of her situation right from the beginning, while those around her are much less accepting and are sometimes even frustrated by her seemingly blasé way of talking about her own death. Throughout the film it’s clear that living with the constant presence of death, whether in the form of another patient’s funeral or her own prognosis, has drastically changed her view on life. At one point while talking with her sister, Annabel says that only having three more months doesn’t really both her since in the large scheme of things the existence of humanity itself is just a small speck on the universe’s timeline. Many times she also mentions that there’s a type of songbird that thinks it dies every time the sun goes down and sings in happiness every morning when the sun rises because it realizes it’s still alive.
Enoch on the other hand was never able to properly grieve the death of his parents, resulting in unresolved anger and an inability on some levels to deal with death. Though at first it seems he’s accepted that his girlfriend only has 3 months to live, it becomes clear later on that what seemed to be acceptance was really denial. The final half hour of the film focuses on his coming to terms with Annabel’s approaching death, partially facilitated by his interactions with his “ghost friend,” a kamikaze pilot called Hiroshi with whom he talks and plays battleship.
While rewatching the film this week there were two points in the film that especially made me think of discussions we’ve had in Death and Burial this semester. About halfway through the film Annabel mentions that she’d like to donate her body to science. Enoch is very unhappy with her decision and states that he doesn’t like the idea of people cutting her into pieces and “putting her eyes in jars.” This made me think about the potential effect on family members when someone decides to donate their body to science or for organ donation. Do most people consult their loved ones before making that decision? Should loved ones have a significant say, since in the end they’re the ones who are really affected by what happens after death? Later on in the film Enoch and Annabel rehearse a “death scene” they’d prepared for Annabel. She’d planned out precisely how she wanted to die. This reminded me of the way medieval good deaths were organized and also how some people plan out their funerals ahead of time to the last detail. I did find it somewhat odd that she was planning out her death scene, not her funeral, though this does go back to the importance, even today, of the moment of death in how an individual’s death is viewed. Many films contain death-related material, but not many flat out address it as Restless does. Often when a film’s focus is death the film is somewhat confrontational, while Restless managed to introduce and discuss the concept in a surprisingly open and comforting way.

Jana Muschinski





Terri Schiavo: The Musical

The cartoon television show Family Guy is known for its dry, offensive, and often over-the-top humor. No subject is off limits for the show’s creator, Seth MacFarlane, not even the case of Terri Schiavo. Around the time of the five-year anniversary of Schiavo’s death, Family Guy aired an episode in which a kindergarten class was exhibiting its annual production of “Terri Schiavo: The Musical.” Before the performance, one of the main characters in the audience makes a comment asking if it is still too soon to have a musical about the controversial case. The show starts with just the noise of all the machinery maintaining Schiavo’s body, which eventually becomes the music for the song. In the scene Schiavo is often called a vegetable, with jokes being made about a machine “dispensing gravy for her mashed potato brains” and stating that she’s “the most expensive plant you’ll ever see.” The children playing pro-life supporters sing the chorus “Terri Schiavo is kind-of alive-o.”

Understandably, the Schindlers, Schiavo’s family, were very upset by the episode. “I wish the producers could have seen (my mother’s) reaction,” said Bobby Schindler, Schiavo’s brother. “It rips your heart out. It really shouldn’t matter what side you’re on regarding my sister. Something like this should offend anyone.”

While there is no denying that this episode is extremely offensive, it is also making a political statement. By exaggerating the amount of medical technology required to maintain Schiavo’s body, MacFarlane shows how low he feels the quality of life is for someone in a persistent vegetative state and how vital the brain’s role is in determining life. MacFarlane takes a very serious and highly contested situation and uses humor in an attempt to show how ridiculous he thinks it is to keep someone on life support when they have been diagnosed as brain dead. His use of humor also seems to eliminate the gray areas in this debate and leaves us with a black and white picture of what he thinks is right: brain death is ultimate death and it is not only constitutional but also ethically responsible to remove life support. The ridiculous notion of a musical about the Terri Schiavo case shows how ridiculous MacFarlane believed the situation to be in the first place.

It was not simply the episode that was offensive, but also the timing. By airing the show so close to the fifth anniversary of Schiavo’s death, the episode was addressing a very sensitive subject at its most sensitive time. In posing the question at the beginning of the scene as to whether or not it was too soon to produce this musical, another question is raised: when is it appropriate to joke about upsetting, controversial topics?

To see the video go to http://www.mrctv.org/videos/family-guy-stages-terri-schiavo-musical

To read an article on the Schindler’s reaction go to http://www.tampabay.com/features/media/terri-schiavos-family-is-upset-over-family-guy-parody/1082648

Lindsey Max

The Mysteries of Mourning

Death is a mystery, and for all of our braininess, most of us can understand death only through the emotions we associate with it, through our feelings of grief and loss. Our ability to comprehend death in even this small way, and to experience all of the complex emotions that the loss of a fellow human creates in us, is part of what makes us human. It belongs to our species alone, a marker of our deep intellectual and emotional ability, as uniquely human as our large brains or complex cultures. Or does it? Is it possible that we humans are not the only creatures capable of grasping the concept of death, and of feelings the emotions associated with the loss of a loved one?

Mourners at a funeral

A recent study, done by researchers at U.C. Davis, is yet another link in a growing chain of evidence that non-human members of the animal kingdom do, in fact, mourn their dead. This study showed that scrub jays (a type of bird) show distress at the presence of a dead jay, which includes ceasing all food-gathering and making loud calls of alarm. In my opinion, this study does point less to an emotional response to death and more to a self-preservation response, but it shows that animals can perceive death and its consequences. And who are we to say that the response isn’t, at least in part, emotional? The question of whether animals experience emotions of grief after the death of a relative or another member of their community is an important one, and there is far more evidence than just this study suggesting that they can. Giraffes, elephants and chimpanzees, all of which are far more social animals than jays, have been observed reacting to the deaths of others in ways that are, well, human.

If animals can feel grief upon losing a member of their community, some very difficult and disturbing dilemmas arise. I’m not referring to the rights of animals in zoos or being used for testing (which are important, of course, but not really the point that I want to make) but to what this could mean for our definition of humanity. If animals react to death in much the same way that we do, what does that mean for us? Do animals have culture, or is this response to death innate? How much of our own response to death is built in, and how much is a product of society? None of this changes the nature or the complexity of human reactions to death, but it does raise questions about what really separates us from the rest of the natural world, and about what it really means to be human.

Rachael Cogbill

James, Patsy and the Long Arm of the Law

James Davis walking up the stairs to his log cabin. In the front his wife Patsy's grave.

James Davis is 73 years old. When his wife Patsy died in 2009, he buried her at her own request, in front of the log cabin he had built himself and where they had lived their lives together in the city of Stevenson, Alabama. He buried her well. She lies in a vault and casket, marked by a marble stone, the plot covered with colorful flowers. Now the city of Stevenson wants him to move her. The grave, it is argued, is illegal. Neighbors may complain. Who knows, maybe house prices will be affected. We cannot have that! A bond of $10,000 has been set by a judge as a condition to stop initiating action to remove her body.

Surely, the burial of people needs to be regulated in some way, but as always when the law inserts itself into our most intimate and emotional relationships, it can often seem heartless.

As a child I remember my father’s outrage at a photograph depicting how a Romani man in Sweden was retained by police who hindered him from placing a bottle of vodka in the casket of his own father. The contours of this black and white photograph are engraved in my memory as an image of a kind of ultimate oppression. The act of hindering a human being from the right to mourn and honor their dead in their own way is inhumane. To physically restrain a man from honoring his father the way he was taught and the way he felt was right, seemed so unreasonable.

The Swedish photograph from the 1970s, and the story of James Davis both depict the collision of traditional cultures with modernity. While they are small scale events in the personal lives of individuals, they carry a larger message that should concern us all. Both are stories about how administrative red tape and principles can be used to hurt and humiliate people. To tell them: we cannot accommodate your grief, your needs or your sorrow, because they do not fit our standards. And what does not fit our standards has to stop.

I wonder how often individuals given the authority to step in, simply decide to let it slip through the cracks. How often do they “lose” the complaint against the old man who buried his wife by his house, or “forget” to hinder that man slipping a bottle of booze to his dad? I wonder, because those acts of letting be – despite the rules and regulations, are sometimes what makes us truly humane.
Read the full story at Huffington Post

Liv Nilsson Stutz