We know how this will end

Death – or rather dying – is terrifying for many people. Watching or hearing about a great figure like Mandela – one of the greatest figures and leaders of my country – suffering from the inevitable break down of his old body is difficult. However, at Big Think, I’ve taken issue with much reporting of it and the equally inevitable issues of sensitivities that will arise: Are you sad enough, are you grieving enough, are you respectful enough, etc.

In case you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend my favourite Christopher Hitchens documentary that examines parts of British media that were censored, following another almost universally loved figure, the Princess of Wales’, death. It makes for depressing viewing: where emotions and a rather creepy mob mentality undermined critical reporting and writing.

Hence, Hitchens.


  1. sarah00 says

    Thank you for the Hitchen’s documentary recommendation. I’d not seen it before. I remember Diana’s death and the hysteria after, and it’s good to know that I wasn’t the only one to feel like an outsider in my own country. I’m the same age as William and my dad died suddenly a few years before Diana. The first I heard about her death was a friend calling to ask if I was ok (I think she thought it would make me sad because of my dad, or something). It was sweet of her but the idea that Diana’s death should affect me puzzled me even then. I didn’t know her and didn’t really care about any of the royals (still don’t).

    I did feel sympathy for her sons who had to keep it together while parading behind her coffin. I cried the entire way through my dad’s funeral and I thought it was cruel that they were put in the public spotlight in that way without anyone to comfort them. The ‘public’ were so wrapped up in their own emotions that they never stopped to think what it was like for her sons, who were just grieving for their mum.

    • CaitieCat says

      We thought the same things about that funeral, then. I remember thinking how toxic a concept traditional masculinity is, that it requires two children to pretend they’re not crying their eyes out because their mother died.

      That said, when my own father was killed in an accident my sister and I survived, we were pretty numb for a few days (well past the funeral), so maybe they got lucky with the suddenness and were numbed too (I was 15 and she 12 at the time, and only just those ages at that – he died very soon after our very-close-to-one-anothers’ birthdays). Doesn’t change that they were probably told to ‘buck up’ and ‘be a man’, though, because, as the Tenth Doctor said: “that’s what we do, we British*, we ‘carry on’.” I know my mother’s husband told me that before my dad’s memorial service (in the days in which people still thought I was a boy).

      * I know, I know, but that is what he said, not “English”.

      • says

        Caitie – Your story of how you felt when your father died reminded me of my own experience of my parents dying in a car crash. I went into a state of shock and remained that way until after the funeral. It was actually the funeral itself that released me from that state.

        You were likely in shock as well. It’s the most likely and most natural response to the sort of tragedy you were experiencing.

        One of the unfortunate characteristics of shock is that the symptoms are indistinguishable from other potential responses – particularly ambivalence. My wife was absolutely convinced that my failure to cry uncontrollably about their death was an attempt to try to be tough in her presence. It wasn’t that at all – my response was not volitional. It was legitimate clinical shock triggered by the sudden loss of both of my parents, and it lasted about a week.

        This is why I am always skeptical when I hear someone assess someone else’s feelings about an intense situation based on their reported response.You hear about this sort of thing a lot, particularly in cases where someone is suspected of killing someone else and their emotional response to that person’s death is cited as some sort of evidence (He didn’t even cry at her funeral!). People don’t account for shock, and in failing to do so, they assign all sorts of motives to whatever response they perceive.

        They (royals) may or may not have been coached in maintaining their composure, but I can attest to the idea that it likely did not matter. Their responses likely weren’t up to them. They were likely still grappling with the enormity of what was going on around them, and the permanence of the loss of their mother.

    • Tauriq Moosa says

      Excellent comment. Yes. I hate that they were marched along, parading in a way that was to be acceptable to “the public”. I dislike the whole monarchy thing in general – but these are still people, they were still children, she was still their mother. Submission to the tyranny of majority, where tears are counted and are allowed only for particulars, is not a submission worth defending or promoting.

  2. tiberiusbeauregard says

    Well, there is 1 difference though: Mandela has actually contributed something to society. Diana hasn’t.

    • CaitieCat says

      Not strictly true; she did a great deal for raising AIDS awareness and helping to destigmatize the disease, as well as lending her fame to the anti-land-mine campaigns. I’ve never been a huge fan of the royals or celebrity, but it’s not fair to say she didn’t contribute. I’d say she contributed, given her position, more than we expect of most royals. In the early 80s, she was one of the very first famous people to really get involved in AIDS activism, regularly visiting wards of the sickest and dying patients to spend time with people who were in a bad way, at a time when the disease was still widely viewed as a retribution against reviled queerfolk. When panic about the disease’s transmissibility meant that many PWA found human touch to be a rare commodity, she went into wards, sat with people, hugged them and shook hands, and did it all on camera so as to be able to make the point that they were people with an illness, not immoral perverts who didn’t deserve the dignity of human touch, let alone any compassion.

      She may not have done any lab testing or scientific advance, but it is fair to say she contributed what she had – her celebrity and her compassion – to people sorely in need of it at the time.