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The unimaginable in the imaginary

There is a distorted collective imaginary about grieving and this only makes this moment even more difficult, filled with judgment and prejudice


Mario Azzi / Unsplash

Last month the death of brazilian actor Domingos Montagner touched me. I got really sad because of the tragedy itself, for the Internet trolls shared on social medias and for bringing up stereotypes and taboos that still exist about the grieving process. There were many comments about Camila Pitanga’s appearance and emotional state after her interview for a TV show: “She seems so cold”, “She should be in bed, she has just seen her friend die” “How can someone be ok for an interview after everything?” People judged and made prejudiced comments about how she should behave, as if the grieving process was predictable, as if there was a protocol.

This reaction is directly connected to a wrong collective imaginary about the grieving process; it assumes that the pain is expressed through decontrol and despair. Death is such an absurd situation that people expect absurd reactions to it, out of the curve attitudes and no emotional control at all. Screaming, fainting, getting sick are some of the expected reactions.

And this projection is not only for the others. We picture ourselves like this when we put ourselves in the place of someone who has lost a beloved one. ” I wouldn’t stand, I would have to be carried to the viewing”. “ I wouldn’t have all this control, I would be screaming, desperate,… and that’s where the problem is. The grieving is unimaginable, what we feel and reproduce is completely different from everything that was imagined – and is projected as grieving and pain. What generates a lot of questioning from someone who is going through the grieving process and who doesn’t recognize him/herself in their own reactions ” why am I here talking, in the viewing, am I a cold person? I should be barely standing on my feet, why doesn’t it happen?” and a wrong judgment of someone who is watching. ” she was great, she was even talking to everyone.”

Situations like these make this moment, which is difficult, even harder and they could be easily avoided with more information about the subject. That’s why Let’s talk about grieving? insists on the importance of respecting the grieving process of each one and understands that there isn’t a rule, manual or protocol, each one goes through grieving in a different way.

Now a passage of Joan Didion that has everything to do with our text:

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it…..When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to “get through it,”…. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.”

Joan Didion, The Year Of Magical Thinking