Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Mourner's Dance - Katherine Ashenburg

Subtitle:  What we do when people die

This is a somber book that the author researched and wrote after her daughter's 25 year old fiance was killed in a car accident.  Since knowing about something makes it less frightening to me, I've read several books on death and dying.

The author explores the history of how western civilization, primarily, has mourned.  She discusses grief symbology, burial practices, mourning attire, and some of the old practices in the 1800-1900's of the grieving.   Some examples:

-- gravestones had carvings of skulls that evolved to add wings and then to have the skulls turn into cherub faces
-- Forest Lawn in Los Angeles was patterned after Mount Hope in Boston and Mount Auburn cemeteries which were the first of the cemeteries designed for visiting as a landscaped attraction.
-- men's grief is typically "instrumental" while women's is intuitive; that is men "do" something in response to grief where women will release their feelings.
-- The term "widow's peak" to describe a "V" shaped growth of hair at the top of the forehead originated from the pointed bonnets worn in mourning from Mary Stuart's time through the death of George VII.
-- Post mortem paintings and photos, jewelry, and quilts were ways of mourners to remember the deceased.

The author used the reactions of her daughter and her fiance's parents to illustrate some of her points.  I couldn't help but wonder how they felt about being discussed in her book.

Published: 2002   Read: April 2013   Genre: Non-fiction

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