The Civil War brought us death on a massive scale, and I’ve read how people turned to seances. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln held seances too. The Spiritualist movement was already in place by the time of the war, but certainly so much violent death spurred more people to try so-called spirit circles. (Aaron Mahnke’s podcast series Unobscured is a must if you’re interested.)
The other thing the Civil War made popular was embalming. Families wanted their dead brought home, and lacking refrigeration and fast travel, something had to be done.
We’re close to 400,000 Covid-19 deaths as I write this. (Something like 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War.) What changes regarding death will it bring? Religious practices might change and things will be more virtual.
But regardless, grief is always with us. I’ve been thinking a great deal about how differently people handle grief. I have a real life interest because I often compare (rightly or wrongly) my own grief process to others. (I recommend Griefcast, funny people talking about death.) I’m fascinated by people who seem so very unbothered by grief. They aren’t callous or unloved people or anything. But they never seem shattered or unmoored. They’re sad and then they go on about their day. On the other end of that spectrum are the people who can’t get out of bed or take to self-medicating or what have you. It is clear they are lost in deep grief sea.
The other day, I thought of loss like a house. (I tend to think of writing like a house and I’ve written stories about magic houses and I dream about houses, so make of that what you will.)
So it seems that a death is like a cannonball crashing through a wall of your house. There’s now a big hole in the wall. It’s shocking even if you saw the cannonball coming. There’s a gaping hole. Now what?
Some people make repairs. Voila! Eventually no one can tell a hole was there. Everything looks the same as before. Sometimes they look at the wall and sigh, remembering. But everything looks fine to guests.
Some people take the opportunity, however unwanted, to remodel. Maybe they’ll make the hole a window or a door. Maybe even the entire wall is just taken out. Things won’t look like they did, but the best has been made of a mess.
Some people leave the hole. It’s jagged. It’s letting in bugs or letting out heat. It makes guests uncomfortable if it doesn’t keep them away.
And some people leave the hole but decorate it. They kind of fix it. They manage. They may call it an art project or their quirky decorating style. Anyone can see it, but it doesn’t look half bad.
A lot may depend on the house. Does it have strong foundations? Lots of support beams? Are there many other rooms or just the one?
On Facebook, some friends always post something to acknowledge a death. It reminds me of the death notices and reminders I saw in Bulgaria.
Some of my American friends found them morbid and weird. I thought they were surprising and sad but also wonderful.
Every year I post something to remember my mom, whose birthday is today. (Happy Ghost Birthday, Mom!) Perhaps people think it’s morbid. I’m okay with that. Because I’m the sort of person who still has the hole in the wall of the house. I’ve kind of fixed it. It doesn’t look half bad. It’s decorated.
Thanks for reading.
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