Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Allow Some Their Grief

Years ago, when I first started officiating at funerals and shiva services, a rabbi I worked with gave me some sage advice. He said let the mourners dictate the grieving process. Listening and watching is the key. Speak when necessary, respond accordingly, touch when appropriate, and above all understand that every person grieves differently. I have tried to emulate him ever since whenever I find myself in those most difficult of situations. I may not always have the right words or the appropriate hugs of comfort, but I certainly know when silence is golden and timing is everything. Which is why I was so taken aback by Christie Blatchford''s column this morning concerning the death of Jack Layton.

To be certain, neither Ms. Blatchford nor the paper she works for have ever been a fan of Mr. Layton's or his politics. This is certainly understandable and actually important in the world of political discourse. And while I might agree that the media, including Ms. Blatchford's own publication, might be going overboard in their coverage of Mr. Layton's untimely death, there is some thought that they might be taking their cues from the millions across the country who are mourning his death, just as my rabbi taught me to do all those years ago. Ms. Blatchford's column, while true to her thoughts and convictions, is ill-timed and incendiary to all of those mourning. 

I wonder if this column might have been better placed in a few days from now. It still would have offended some, but at least it wouldn't have felt so opportunistically vicious. The sting of death is keen for those touched by it, and Ms. Blatchford almost seems to revel in cutting the wound deeper. 

I must admit, that when I first read the piece I was struck by the similarities to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Act 3 Scene 2.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest--
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men--
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Many years ago, while preparing for a funeral, I remember the mourners respectfully asking the rabbi not to sugarcoat his description of the deceased in his eulogy. They wanted their loved one remember for who she was and not some fairytale version. My guess is Mr. Layton would want that too, but Ms. Blatchford forgot that timing is everything. 

May his memory be for blessing.

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