Thursday 14 December 2017

We Irish are great at death but - unlike Bob - we still don't know how to grieve

Bob Geldof has revealed that he gets assailed by waves of grief in public in the aftermath of the death of his 25-year-old daughter, Peaches.

In doing so he's shone a light on how we, and how men in particular, are expected to put a stiff upper lip on expressions of loss.

"In this life, nothing is said to be certain, except death and taxes." So wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1789, and yet 225 years later, we still haven't become comfortable about talking about and dealing with death.

We expect tears when someone dies - actually, we almost demand it, and woe betide a chief mourner who doesn't openly weep over the loss of a loved one.

Cast your mind back to Mick Jagger, whose face was scrutinised for signs of agony in March as he emerged from an Australian restaurant minutes after being told that his long-term partner, L'Wren Scott, had committed suicide.


Once the funeral is over, however, there seems to be a very short time-frame in which public displays of mourning are considered acceptable.

Which is possibly why Bob Geldof sometimes finds himself 'buckling' while walking down the road, and has to duck off into a lane to "blub for a while," to avoid the paparazzi snapping him crying publicly.

"And then I get on with it and that's it," he said in a TV interview last week.

Bob's honesty is refreshing, as his lovely daughter only died three months ago from a suspected heroin overdose, leaving behind two young sons.

Her father is entitled to howl in the streets at the unfairness of it all, or lie prostrate on the street beating his fists in anger.

Society tolerates women crying better than men, though. After all, women are allowed to be emotional at the best of times.

But our poor bereaved men must stay stoic and strong, and mourn their losses in private.

Is it any wonder then that men don't live as long as women - they spend their lives suppressing feelings of anguish to fulfil the expectation of appearing strong and capable.

Yet the bleak rawness of grief can last up to two years, and as Bob explained, ordinary things can leap out at you and leave you reeling.

In his case, words to his songs sometimes take on different meanings to when he first wrote them.

For another person a simple, everyday occurrence elicits sad feelings. For example people can become overwhelmed when a flower the deceased planted starts to bloom.

The gas part is that we Irish like to think we're great at sending our loved ones off in style, but we actually haven't a clue how to handle death or mourning.

We turn up in our droves for removals, wakes, burials and cremations, and congratulate ourselves on being seen paying our respects.

Later we'll shake our heads in sympathy at the loss the poor bereaved family has experienced, as we catch up with long-lost mates and scoff the proffered soup and sandwiches back at the local hostelry.

Yet, if we were to encounter that same family coming up the street a fortnight later, chances are we would duck into our houses or do almost anything else to avoid having to speak to them.

Bob compared his family's life to a soap opera, and he has a point with all of the drama, tragedy and headlines generated by his late wife Paula Yates and by Peaches.

In soap operas people tragically lose their lover, yet mere months later are happily ensconced in another relationship, with the previous love rarely, if ever, mentioned.

This isn't how it works in real life though. You only have to look at poor Bob Geldof, the man who saved thousands of starving children but suffers the pain of not being able to save his daughter.

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