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Jamaica, a small village "in the middle of nowhere”. Summer evening, a sweet breeze cuddling the skin. We were drinking a cocktail around the hotel pool when our attention was captured by a musical rhythm similar to SKA or rock steady, can’t remember exactly. Whatever it was, the rhythm was so full of emotions and catchy that we decided to look for its source.
The hotel doorman told us it was a funeral that was being held a few blocks away. Yes, you understood correctly, a funeral. You can imagine our disbelief: we could not associate that overwhelming rhythm with a ceremony that in our Western culture is far away from positivity.
Once we reached the place, we found an open-air concert with a small bar and tipsy and amused people dancing around.
A boy, later turned out to be a relative of the deceased, explained that the ceremony was actually part of a ritual called "Nine nights", accompanying the dead to the burial. The body is exposed precisely for nine nights, so friends and relatives can see and watch over the coffin until sunrise. But tey don't have to just stand there, they must entertain the dead by singing, playing and dancing. So the dead person will not return as a spirit.
I was amazed by this approach to death, so distant from our weeping, the litanies, the black veils of the ladies in southern Italy worning for days. Both approaches are actually ways to exorcise the death, to deal with something that goes beyond our reach. I do not think there is a better way to do it: dealing with the loss, especially of a beloved one, is a long difficult process.
The concept of death, and even more the concept of mourning, are complex phenomena affecting not only individual aspects but also socio-cultural ones. It has a central role in long-term psychotherapy treatments. The concept of grief, as well as its clinical implications and its difference from other forms of depression, have been a long subject of debate especially in the drafting of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5).
Irvin Yalom, one of the masters of existential psychotherapy, considers the death among the four ultimate issues, potentially generating internal conflicts together with loneliness, the meaning of life and freedom. According to the psychiatrist, in fact, facing the loss offers to the patient new horizons of meaning, food for thoughts and this leads to possible changes
This happens both when the patient faces his/her own death and when we loses the beloved ones.
For the terminally ill person in fact, facing this brings to more meaningful existential point of view: the right importance is reassigned to different tools and people.
It is like if the imminent and inevitable end unties burning relational knots, trivializing them. According to Yalom, it is even curative for phobias and neurosis.
Thus, beyond the negative meaning related to physical destruction, the loss can, in many cases, be salvific and celebrated by a festive rituality with reggae soudtrack.
Dr Chiara Moriglia
Psychologist and trainee Psychotherapist
A joyful death
Different ways to approach mourning
To know more
Irvin D. Yalom (2018) The gift of therapy
Stephen Foehr (2002) Waking up in Jamaica