On public grieving

On public grieving

Kathy Shaidle doesn’t mince words in her “obligatory Virginia Tech post”. While I wouldn’t have her courage or forthrightness to say it in exactly the same way, she makes a good point.

Please don’t indulge in godless modern paganism and set up homely, self-indulgent makeshift memorials with cheap flowers and teddy bears. Don’t hold hands and sing bad pop songs.

Go to church. That’s what it’s for. For centuries, people smarter than you and with more finely honed aesthetics worked on rituals that actually do what they’re supposed to do.

Those people who hung around outside the Palace after Princess Diana’s death looked like fools and you will too if you cave to the lure of cheap grace and post-modern superficiality. Those British mourners displayed as much gringe-inducing [sic], pan-generational learned helplessness as Katrina survivors, but their laziness and ignorance was spiritual.

Worse, you will still feel as empty as you did before, maybe more so, and wonder why.

Don’t make America look stupid and shallow to the whole world by Disneyfying your grief.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
10 comments
  • WOW, whoever Kathy Shaidle is, I say God bless her for telling it like it is. She is so correct to admonish these people to go church and pray for all affected when there is such a tragedy. Notice when these things happen, and they send in the “crisis team” the one person that is never a part of the “team” is a clergyman.

  • Last night, holier Catholics than I organized a Rosary here (it would never dawn on me to organize that) and then an ecumenical Christian group had a prayer vigil last night.  Both were very well attended, especially with only two hours of notice.  for the Rosary.  Just goes to show that if you build it, they will come.

  • As a Father who has lost three children, I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more.  When my 19 yr old son, Michael, died (6yrs ago next month) I told his friends NOT to set up any of the “Roadkill” memorials you see everywhere.  I told them to pray in church and at his grave

  • I strongly disagree with Ms. Shaidle’s comment, and it seems unnecesarily cruel coming so immediately after the tragedy.  It’s fine and right to encourage the mourners to go to church, but I see no harm in doing the other type of mourning as well.  The kind she so bitterly criticizes.

  • Kathy Shaidly is certainly entitled to her opinion, but her comment definitely sounds ethnocentric, rude, ignorant and frankly insensitive.  Setting up a roadside memorial, or ANY type of memorial is hardly “pagan”.  This is just stupid.  Memorials and shrines have been a part of Catholic tradition since the very begining.  I am reminded of an annecdote about the Nazi invasion of Poland; the Nazis rounded up random citizens for firing squads off the street, lining them up and shooting them against a wall in Warsaw.  Immediately, people went up and put flowers in the bullet holes.  The Nazis were amuzed, and took THOSE people, lined them up and shot them as well.  Then another group immediately went up and put flowers in those new bullet holes.

    The point is that of COURSE we should go to church and pray. Of COURSE we should memorialize those who have fallen within a Catholic setting.  But setting up other memorials (often including a cross, crucifix, votive candles etc) are other outward signs of memorializing the fallen in a way that shows our love for them AS WELL AS our faith in God.  This type of display is commonplace in ALL Catholic countries, but the US, being predominantly Protestant has not traditionally seen them.  Such displays began a few decades ago with the influx of CATHOLIC Latin Americans, who of course practice this.

    To summarize, Kathy, the practice is NOT Pagan, but Catholic.  You should be asking yourself why you are so ashamed and adverse to Catholic practices and traditions.  I’m guessing you don’t like incense either.

  • “Setting up a roadside memorial, or ANY type of memorial is hardly ‘pagan’.  This is just stupid.  Memorials and shrines have been a part of Catholic tradition since the very begining.”

    Memorials often tell us as much about the living as they do the dead.  This is part of Kathy’s point.  When memorials incorporate little more than the plasticized schmaltz of what passes as culture, it lays bare how unprepared the grieving are for those moments when they are faced with what are, at their core, eternal realities. 

    This is what separates authentically religious memorials from those against which Kathy counsels.  Watching ennui-addled, spiritually inchoate post-adolescents fumble when grasping for something….SOMETHING to which they can cling to find meaning is something that saddens me to no end.  In contrast, for example, watching the Amish community in Pennsylvania grieve their murdered children when thrust into a grotesquely similar situation is one that I will remember for many, many years as being so…correct. 

    Even more so the vigil of which Infanted wrote. 

    As a final thought, the last sentence of Kathy’s piece should be a reminder to the grieving that they have responsibilities when faced with moments like this.  Like it or not, the reality is that they now have been thrust onto a very brightly-lit stage, and the world is watching how they act.  Rightly or wrongly, observers will make judgments about them, and about our nation, based on what they see.  I hope those closest to this tragedy understand this.

  • Hello Steve, you wrote Memorials often tell us as much about the living as they do the dead.  This is part of Kathy’s point.

    I agree with you a hundred percent on the first ssentence, but disagree with you on the second.  It is NOT Kathy’s point…it is yours Kathy wrote:

    Please don’t indulge in godless modern paganism and set up homely, self-indulgent makeshift memorials with cheap flowers and teddy bears.

    And I’m saying setting up a makeshift memorial is neither godless, modern or pagan unless that is the specific intent of said memorial (i.e. a memorial to a godless modern pagan).  But the practice itself is as much Catholic as lighting candles in church.

  • QualisRex,

    The sentence you quote actually supports Steve’s point. Look at the modifiers (there are three adjectives and a compound prepositional phrase) in Kathy’s sentence.

    Kathy doesn’t condemn all memorials nor does she say anything about memorials that evince real religious belief. She specifically describes what kind of memorial she means.

    If Americans had the kind of faith of the Poles you describe, we wouldn’t need to condemn the memorials they set up because they wouldn’t be self-indulgent.

  • I loved the phrase “Disneyfying your grief.”  Then a bit later I realized that’s just what a lot of people would get if they took Kathy’s advice a went to church.  Would that one could go to the local parish church and find the rituals developed over centuries by people with “finely honed aesthetics”.  More likely to encounter . . . um . .  . people holding hands and singing bad pop songs.

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