Private grief is not a spectator sport

Remember the days when a roadside floral tribute was a rarity?

Remember the days when a roadside floral tribute was a rarity? - Credit: Getty Images

Opinion: Grief is not a spectactor sport, says Sharon Griffiths.

Grief used to be private: now it's a spectator sport, a community occasion. Let's all join in whether it's anything to do with us or not.

In all the many ways the world has changed in the last 20 years, our attitude to grief is one of the more intriguing.

Why, for instance, did crowds start applauding coffins, or after a one-minute silence?

The first time I saw a bunch of flowers at the scene of an accident – about 30 years ago – it was unexpected, sad and moving. Now every tragic or dramatic death is not complete until there's a heap of flowers, teddy bears and candles. It's become almost compulsory and, sadly, almost meaningless.

Yes, of course, people are touched by others' tragedy – that's part of being human – and want to show our respects and sympathy and some sort of support for families, but that still doesn't explain the wild shows of grief or why parents bring young children to lay flowers at the homes of people they never knew.

There's a point where sympathy and support crosses a line and becomes a sort of muscling-in on other people's grief. 'Look at me! Am I not kind and caring? Am I not suffering too?'

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No you're not, and in any case, it's not meant to be about you.

A line has been crossed in TV interviews too. All journalists want to give their readers/viewers the human angle to a story, because that's the only way of understanding the enormity of it. Bereaved relatives often long to talk about the person who has died, so they make their mark on the world, however fleetingly.

But when distraught parents are questioned relentlessly until the tears flow, that's dangerously close to voyeurism and makes many of us feel intrusive and distinctly uncomfortable.

There's also a new fashion for interviewing the schoolmates, even primary school children, of any child who's died in tragic circumstances. Is this healthy? If they're really upset then it's a form of child cruelty and if they're not, you're just expecting them to go through a charade for the cameras.

Maybe that's what we want now - people must only grieve but to be seen to be grieving, otherwise it doesn't count. If we're not careful, we'll end up like North Korea where nothing but floods of excessive tears are acceptable on the death of a prominent person.

We don't want to return to the days of the stiff upper lip and pretending nothing is wrong, but we're getting dangerously close to wallowing in other people's misery which in the end, only belittles it.

Princes William talking last night about the reaction after their mother's death, described the screaming, shouting and sobbing and the way people were trying to touch them. 'It was very peculiar,' he said.

'It was as if people are expecting you to grieve in public,' said Prince Harry. 'To whose benefit would that be?'


Some things are still best done in private.