First aired on Edmonton AM (24/8/11)
Canada watched Jack Layton grow from a Toronto city councillor to the leader of a federal political party. Canada watched the likable, charismatic politician take that party from a handful of seats in Parliament to a record 103 seats in the last election, and status as the Official Opposition. Canada watched as he battled prostate cancer. And now, Canada mourns the loss of Jack Layton.
Outpourings of grief are happening from coast to coast to coast. Memorials have popped up in the most unexpected places: outside his home, along fences and on sidewalks. He was a politician who many liked, respected and admired, regardless of political affiliation. And, in an unprecedented move, the leader of the Official Opposition will be given a state funeral this weekend.
Layton's death was quick and unexpected. He battled cancer publicly and bravely, and Canadians, whether they knew him or not, or agreed with his ideologies or not, watched. Because he waged this battle so publicly, Canadians became connected to his story, and to his death. "He went from a difficult illness to hope to triumph to a really unexpected setback and a very, very quick death," Katherine Ashenburg, author of The Mourner's Dance: What We Do When People Die, explained to Edmonton AM. "I think the poignancy of his story is one of the many reasons why we are mourning him in such numbers."
Since Layton was public about his illness, it is logical for Canada to be public about its loss. The public grieving process can be therapeutic, Ashenburg explains. It gives mourners a sense of community and a sense of hope.
"It's a like a hole in your family or your village or your country," Ashenburg said. "People come together to convince themselves...that we are going to repair this hole in the fabric of our family, our village or our country, while honouring and respecting the memory of the person we lost."
Finally, Ashenburg argues that the widespread public grieving for Layton is a way of acknowledging that his death means that the country faces uncertainty. No one is sure what is going to happen to the NDP and to the federal government in the wake of his death.
"We are mourning some kind of possibility of the political life of the country."
The Mourner's Dance: What We Do When People Die
by Katherine AshenburgBuy this book at:
"When her daughter's fiancé died suddenly, Katherine Ashenburg found herself drawn into the world of mourning customs. Finding little comfort in the stripped-down North American approach, she sought solace, and shaped the core of this much-praised book, by exploring the rich traditions that have sustained mourners in cultures around the world and across centuries. Intertwining anecdotes from past and present with her own story, Ashenburg uncovers the wisdom and creativity embedded in mourning rituals and their value in rebuilding those unravelled by loss. Somehow, as Ashenburg so deftly reveals, we find strength and go on living..."
Read more at Random House Canada