Public mourning

The public display of grief. This may take many forms ranging from the very formal to the very informal, from stately funeral ceremonies designed to evoke a sense of meaning beyond the ephemeral to spontaneous shrines where people leave flowers, flags and personal mementos for the dead.

The public display of grief has waxed and waned in history. The Victorians in the 19th century mourned extravagantly in public. In reaction, extreme displays of grief were avoided for most of the 20th century. Then toward the end of the 20th century, public mourning returned with the death of celebrities and public figures such as Princess Diana.

Public mourning may be for someone whom the mourners knew personally or for a total stranger. The public expression of mourning for strangers may paradoxically be easier than for a family member. But none of this is new.

In the “Consolation to His Wife,” Plutarch (circa 45 – 125 AD) equated extreme expressions of grief with bacchic celebrations and told his wife that “…the insatiable yearning for lamentation which leads to wailing and beating of the breast is no less shameful than unbridled voluptuousness….”

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