Friday, October 21, 2016

Rituals of Grieving

It's been a difficult week at work.  By now, our school's loss of a gifted faculty member has made national news:  on Saturday, Patrick Peacock, a skilled diver with advanced certifications, died over 200 feet underwater in a cave.  Most of us have spent a stunned week trying to make sense of it all.

Of course, on some level, no sense can be made.  It's a dangerous cave, but he had successfully navigated it before.  He had the skills and the equipment--but equipment can fail, and even the most experienced divers can face challenges.  He was only 53.

I've wondered if we'd all be reacting the same way if he had died in a car crash.  Probably.  Our students have made a shrine.  They'd have done that regardless of the method of death.  We'd have cried.  We still would have had a piercing moment when we have to look at our lives and evaluate:  are we doing what we were put on earth to do?

I've been touched by how many students have had his classes and how he has affected them as a teacher.  I've been an adjunct for as many years as I've taught full-time, and I'm happy to know that adjuncts don't necessarily have less of an impact on students' lives.

Tomorrow I'll go to the memorial service.  I've spent the week thinking about the rituals that humans create to help them navigate life's passages.  I listened to Terry Gross interview Jonathan Safran Foer recently on an episode of Fresh Air; she says, "Well, you know, you mentioned ritual and the importance that some rituals have taken on in your life. You write about that in a paragraph in the book, where Jacob is thinking - and this is after his grandfather dies - he's thinking, Judaism gets death right. It instructs us what to do when we know least well what to do and feel an overwhelming need to do something. You should sit like this. We will. You should dress like this. We will. You should say these words at these moments, even if you have to read from transliteration. I think that really captures very well (laughter) how ritual can be very helpful at times when you don't know what to do or what to say or how to dress. And, you know, the Jewish rituals for mourning the dead tell you what to do for all those things."

I suspect that tomorrow's memorial service won't have any kind of liturgy.  I suspect that I will miss it.

No comments: