Monday, November 22, 2021

Dying, and Mourning, Politically

One of my greatest nightmares is that a loved one of mine will die "politically". What I mean by that is that their death will occur as part of something political or politicized. A terrorist attack would be a prime example; dying during a protest would be another. When a loved one dies, all one wants to do is grieve; and be surrounded by those who join and support you in your grief. But unlike dying in, say, a car accident, a political death doesn't allow that.  One cannot, truly, be left alone to grieve. One is forcibly kept in the center of an ongoing political maelstrom at the precise moment when one most deserves respite.

The most obvious horror is that some people might minimize or even justify your loved one's death, and they might do it to your face. Even if they don't directly target you, in a political death there will inevitably be people on the "other side", and they aren't going to just pack it in and call it quits because your loved one died (the thing about dying politically is that typically yours is not the first death attached to that politics). And then there are the people who are on your side, or who present themselves as such; they might try to recruit you as a symbol for a particular cause or banner. Suddenly, your tragedy is their debating point. If one does "want" to enlist in a given political project, the effort one must expend to make sure one does it right is mental energy one simply doesn't have -- which won't stop others from judging you; which wouldn't stop me from judging myself.  Or maybe one actually rejects the politics of those claiming to speak on your behalf; the act of repudiating those who are supposedly standing in solidarity with you would be delicate under the best of circumstances -- try to imagine balancing it in the absolute worst of circumstances.

It's a horrifying thought. And the worst part is that these terrible things the mourner is subjected to aren't, for the most part, even wrong. Political deaths are political, and the politics of political deaths don't pause because your loved one dies. While there are certain cruelties -- taunting, mocking, crowing -- that could be justly labeled beyond the pale (not that this labeling does much to deter anyone), it is not realistic for the world to stop thinking about the political issue your circle has just unwillingly punctuated. The world continues when a loved one dies a normal death too, but at least it typically has the decency to ignore you for awhile. In a political death, the world continues its path straight through you. I don't know how people handle it. It strikes me as one of the worst things I can possibly imagine.

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