Thursday, 13 June 2013

A return to mourning: the psychological case for the traditional Requiem

Last night I posted on the religious case for a return to the traditional Requiem Mass primarily from the point of view of the deceased person, who may desperately need our prayers.

Today in the Sydney Morning Herald there is an interesting article pointing in the same direction, but using entirely secular arguments, and arguing from the point of view of those who mourn.

In essence, it argues that the modern insistence that the deceased is in a better place, or is better off dead (because of senility/suffering or whatever) represents an unhealthy denial of the reality of our genuine sense of loss.

The psychology of mourning

The article interviews a grief counsellor who thinks we are not allowing enough time for people to mourn properly, a claim backed up by some new psychological research:

"A study published last month in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General found mourning rituals after the death of loved ones reduced grief and benefited people who believed in rituals as well as those who did not. Although the specific rituals differed widely according to culture and religion, the study found there was a common psychological mechanism underlying their effectiveness: regained feelings of control.

But funerals in Western cultures are often less ritualistic and have shifted from being solemn affairs of mourning to focusing on celebrating life, O'Connell says. Wearing black had been shunned for brighter colours, and ''death'' in funeral readings had been replaced with words such as ''loss'' and ''passing''.

''Half of funerals are now done by celebrants because the pendulum has swung from mourning death to celebrating that person's life,'' she says. ''I have started to see people feeling guilty about mourning someone who had a long and wonderful life.''

At one funeral for a 100-year-old woman, the 82-year-old daughter, crying in the front row, was reprimanded by her son. At the lectern he said, ''Mum, she was 100 years old - she had to go at some stage.''

''I thought, 'But she's had her mum for 82 years,''' O'Connell says.

Acknowledging loss

The focus of the article is on how contemporary culture makes people reluctant to even acknowledge the impact of the death of someone close to you.

Indeed, the new manual of psychiatry now treats depression after someone's death not as a natural reaction, but as an illness, to be treated with drugs.

The traditional Requiem, and other rituals associated with death - Mass on hearing the news, Office of the Dead and/or Rosary the night before the funeral, Requiem Mass and burial ceremonies, Wake, Months Mind and more - both acknowledge the legitimate grief of the bereaved and give them a way of channelling their grief into something constructive in terms of praying for the dead.

Another reason for insisting on a return to tradition!

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