Is That A Pain Cry? What We Want To Hear About Death

I don’t see death every day, but I hear it. From where I sit, in my home office overlooking a little Bosphorus bay, the day is punctuated by recess at a large school below. Sometimes through the din I think I hear a high-pitched pain cry echoing in the valley. An intermittent wail. Out on the balcony I listen, some primitive hackle raised. The source: the government hospital on the waterfront. Not a patient. Someone realizing a loved life is over.

I caught a grief panel live-webcasted from The Women’s Conference 2009, America’s foremost forum for women as architects of change. California’s First Lady Maria Shriver -- whose mother and uncle died recently -- and other high profile grieving women talked in raw terms about love and loss. Tremulous voices....courageous for getting on stage in front of an audience of 25,000 for what is usually a private conversation.

Buttoned-down American culture is “grief-illiterate”, they agreed, one woman appreciating the Middle Eastern tradition of ululating which she saw as stress relief. Celebrity means they mourn in the public eye.  Shriver’s iconic clan has had a lion’s share of public bereavement -- it’s practically the Kennedy family culture -- yet she counted it as a benefit: people treated her gently, strangers transformed into supporters.

Many of us grieve in private, our mourning unnoticed outside of networks of family and friends.

Restricting who we talk to about it can cut us off from people unafraid to hear about death, perhaps those even able to console us.

I know when my best friend died -- 15 years ago -- I was on the opposite side of the planet from everyone who knew me, and her, which muffled my pain cry and made the isolation I felt even more acute.

What do you hear about death? What do you want to hear? What do you share?