Jack Layton, the leader of our country's opposition party, died on Monday. Since then, he has been given the honour of a state funeral, complete with lying in state in the House of Commons in Ottawa, and in the rotunda of the Toronto City Hall. Thousands of members of the public have lined up for hours for their chance to file past his coffin and write in his memory book.
What can it mean that so many people are expressing deep grief during these visits? Some, of course, are there to express respect, but many are finding themselves overwhelmed by grief. Can such a mass of people all be grieving at once? Watching the TV coverage, the answer has to be, "Yes."
In this public outpouring of admiration and grief, we can witness again how important it is to allow people to grieve individually and collectively. So often, we find ourselves in shock and disbelief when a loved one dies, and we don't always feel the deep grief at the time of the funeral. Public memorial services, whether for virtual strangers, or those designed by hospitals or funeral homes to mourn people who have died in a given year, give a social sanction to our need to mourn. Those times allow us to be in touch with our loss of hope, our fear for the future, our need to reconnect with the one(s) who has died.
This past week has been a living testimonial to the importance of allowing people to grieve. Grief is a universal and powerful emotion. It can bind strangers and separate loved ones. It can paralyze us, and motivate us. It can reinforce our beliefs, or tear those beliefs to shreds. Grief is the heartbeat of compassion.
Rest in peace, Jack, and may your family find the peace that passes all understanding.