Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I read the obituary column in the New York Times every day, not only the obituaries the paper thinks are noteworthy but also the paid death notices. I pay particular attention to the column of "In Memoriam" notices that appear at the end of the paid death notices. This is where people pay to have published a few words they write about a loved one on the anniversary of the person's death or birthday.

These are sometimes very raw expressions of grief. One "In Memoriam" notice consisted of one sentence: "I long for you". Another read: "It is 12 years since your brutal murder. I still pray for justice."

What impresses me most is that grief does not end. A few days ago there was an "In Memoriam" notice for a parent who had been dead forty-five years. The ultimate human paradox is that the deeper our love for someone, the more intense and unbearable our grief at that person's death. The grief becomes our most immediate expression of the love.

When looking at the photographs of parents grieving the deaths of their children in the recent earthquakes in China, I realized that grief is a language common to everyone on earth. We understand so deeply what it is to experience the death of someone to whom our hearts are bound.

Why, then, do political and religious zealots believe it is their holy calling to create grief? Regardless of what these maddened people think they are doing, what they are accomplishing, without a doubt, is adding to the population of mourners.

Perhaps a time will come when enough of us feel grief at the deaths of those we don't know, when we will share the grief of those who mourn those they knew. If such a time comes we will have learned to value every human life as if it were our own, and it will be impossible to even imagine killing others because they don't believe as we do.

© 2008 by Julius Lester


"Michael Cunningham

"Deep peace of the running wave to you. Deep peace of the flowing air to you. Deep peace of the quiet earth to you. Deep peace of the shining stars to you. Deep peace of the gentle night to you. Moon and stars pour their healing light on you. Deep peace of the world to you."

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