One of the prices we pay for human attachment is that we mourn when a loved one dies. Every society has found ways to support and contain the mourner’s grief, from the heavy crape veils of the Victorians to the boisterous wakes of the Irish, from the Jewish custom of shiva to Mexico’s Day of the Dead.
When her daughter’s fiancé died suddenly, Katherine Ashenburg experienced the varieties of modern mourning, the expected ceremonies and intuitive rituals that gave solace to her family. Their power to comfort or not led her to explore the choreography of mourning across centuries and cultures, the rich and endlessly inventive ways we have devised to mark a universal and deeply felt plight.
North American culture favors a mourning that is private and virtually invisible, but as this captivating work reveals, the formalized grieving customs of the past were so integrated into daily life that ultimately they gave rise to public parks, department stores, and ready-to-wear clothing. In the poignant keepsakes, prescribed mourning garb, carefully tended cemeteries, etiquette book directives, Internet support groups, and displays of desperate keening or outrageous revelry lie clues to a society’s most elemental beliefs and keys to personal consolation.
The Mourner’s Dance uncovers the psychological wisdom embedded in mourning customs ancient and new, and the value of ritual in restoring a community unraveled by loss. It is about how, in the wake of death, we go on living.
From the Hardcover edition.
“The Mourner’s Dance is a fascinating, intelligent, moving, and (dare I say) witty account of one of our most basic and least understood needs: to come to terms with the end of a life that we loved.”–Alberto ManguelFrom the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Katherine Ashenburg is the design columnist for Toronto Life magazine and writes travel pieces for the New York Times. In addition, she gives architectural tours of Southern Ontario towns and puts her Ph.D in English literature to good use by giving lectures on contemporary novels and appearing regularly on CBC Radio’s The Arts Today to discuss classic Canadian novels.