When someone dies, we mourn. We mourn the loss of their life, but we feel the loss in our life. It’s like a small part of us ceases to exist except in the recesses of our mind.
It is said that scent is the strongest trigger for memories, and I suspect it’s true. There are a few smells that bring me back to childhood, like the smell of the dump. We used to live near the dump in Dorchester. My friend, Russell, and I would treasure hunt there all the time, before it was considered trespassing. The smell of the swamps where we used to capture salamanders, frogs, and turtles. The smell of cedar reminds me of an old trunk that my grandma had in her house. The fresh aroma of harvest takes me back to growing up in the country and riding in the combine with the landlord. Certain smells, specific memories.
Sounds also cause memories to creep back into history. There are songs from the 80’s and 90’s that take me back to school dances and the days when my wife and I began dating. Our wedding song takes me to a specific date with beautiful memories. Sadly, these songs are now considered classics…and I didn’t even know I had aged that much.
But there are clear memories that have no mystic trigger, they are just memories. When someone dies, the memories come back, for some it’s like a flood. Some may feel they are drowning in the flood of memories.
What do you do with the memories? If you happened to have grown up with someone who went on to fame, you have a direct connection to the sorrow that everyone is supposed to feel. If you don’t feel the same sorrow, does it make you a lesser person? Maybe a bit heartless?
In 2011 we have seen the loss of NDP Leader Jack Layton, Shawn Tompkins (MMA trainer at Tapout in Las Vegas), Amy Winehouse (Singer), Kelly Thomas (homeless man), Betty Ford (Former American First Lady), Saif al-Arab al-Gaddafi (son of leader Muammar Gaddafi), Serge LeClerc (Canadian pardoned criminal and politician), and Shrek (New Zealand celebrity sheep), as well as hundreds more.
Your level of mourning depends on your relationship and experiences with each of these people, even Shrek. We live in relationships so we are inevitably impacted by loss and suffering, but context is required. I was active in the local NDP and union issues at one point so I felt a degree of loss for Jack. I went to school with Shawn Tompkins so it was closer to home and he was my age. I didn’t care for Amy Winehouse’s music or the image she represented, but her family is left to carry on without her. Kelly Thomas, well, that’s a sad story. Saif al-Arab al-Gaddafi was a celebrated death by many in the journey to Libyan freedom. And so it goes.
Although we may not appreciate someone, may not agree with their political stripe or their past actions, we put aside the negative and understand that there are those who were close to the deceased who will have to move forward without them. Yes, even Shrek.
Our memories will remain with us. Does sharing the negativity of the past help in the healing? I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think the celebration of someone’s loss and suffering is intended to be a positive experience.
Everyone has a story. How will yours be remembered?