I am halfway through reading “The Loss That Is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father” by Maxine Harris.
In the book, Harris describes the custom of having professional mourners at funerals. She explains how many cultures believe that crying and weeping and feeling one’s pain is a fundamental step in the grieving process. So much so that at funerals, the grieving family and friends are joined by a group of professional mourners whose sole responsibility is to make sure that family members feel their feelings. When a professional mourner sees a family member trying to supress their emotions, they move closer to them and start wailing and saying phrases they think the family member is thinking, such as “I am angry that you left me”. This inevitably draws the family member back to the experience of their emotions and helps them avoid the devastating numbness that can occur if they fail to grieve in an embodied manner.
In Expressive Arts Therapy, the beat of a drum, the sweep of a paint brush or the ecstatic dance are the “wail” of a professional mourner calling someone home to themselves.
As a parents, we can also be professional mourners by giving our children space to experience their emotions.
On the weekend, my son and I were at a play centre in which the kids put on construction outfits and were building a house with foam bricks and shingles. My three year old tripped over another mother’s foot and starting wailing for me, “Mama….Mama”, with big tears in his eyes. He was grieving his own vulnerability and grieving the fact that I was not within arm’s reach. The mother who had accidently tripped him picked my son up and said, “Stop crying. Construction workers don’t cry”.
I was sad that someone would so quickly dismiss my son’s need to cry. The experience made me think about how important it is for me to be a professional mourner for my son—to give him space and encouragement to feel his feelings in the face of a world that so often will tell him that men do not cry.
Harris, M. (1996). The Loss That Is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father. Plume/Penguin Group, NY, NY.