Death has become highly impersonal in the United States and is seen as “culturally invisible.” In the past, the bodies of those who died used to be prepared by someone within the family or community and their lives were then celebrated by a larger group of people. Today, however, corpses are sent off to funeral homes, then mourned over with a relatively closed off service at either a church or funeral home. With emerging advancements in technology, medicine, military tactics, and aspects of everyday life, it’s clear that over the last fifty years, the United States has devoted a great deal of money and time in order to control death. As our emphasis shifted from the number of people alive to the quality of life lived, lives lost due to causes other than old age or risky behaviors shake personal lives as well as those of the culture and society as a whole. Tragic, unexpected deaths result in questioning of both personal and cultural standing. Senseless deaths that have no easily determined rationale are deeply personal for those who are not even directly related to the event, and these losses complicate the mourning process, increase anxiety, change cultural values and threaten the persistence of society. A spontaneous memorialization is a public means of coping with unforeseen circumstances and is a method of restoring balance to society.
In the United States, it has been said that the spontaneous memorialization is not needed. Our technologically advanced, secular society may push rituals into the realm of becoming completely obsolete – the reason being that they serve no purpose. Because we are so individuated, the sense of community needed for such a ritual is said to be nonexistent, and some even go so far as to say that these rituals may not even be possible in our country. Through a tangible structure, sentiments and motivations are intertwined in order to satisfy needs that people may not even know they had. Despite criticism claiming these rites are unnecessary, authors Haney, Leimer, and Lowery, in their article “Spontaneous Memorialization: Violent Death and Emerging Mourning Ritual,” assert that rather than being caused by the fact that we don’t need death rituals, it’s actually because of inadequate traditional rituals. “If the formalism of more traditional rituals is perceived as failing to capture the distinct meaning of an individual life or the extent of loss felt by survivors, those survivors may be more likely to alter and customize standard ritual practices to inject personal meanings” (Haney, Leimer & Lowery, 1997).
The spontaneous memorialization is known as an adjunct ritual that gives an opportunity to mourn for those not directly affected by the death. Spontaneous memorials are mementoes such as crosses, flowers, teddy bears, and flags left at the site of death, or something directly related to the victim, and all of them are characterized by multiple connected characteristics. Spontaneous memorials are individualistic, yet public displays that are not usually organized; the participants choose how much or how little they take place in the adjunct ritual. Rather than being held at a stationary location, spontaneous memorials are typically found at the site of death or at a place that’s somehow meaningful to the victim or victims. Those who take place in the adjunct ritual are not typically set in stone; the boundaries of who is allowed to contribute are significantly extended. The objects that make their way to these memorials can be religious, secular, or highly personal instead of just being religious as in the customary funeral rites. Instead of simply meaning something to the deceased, these objects are meaningful in some way to the mourner specifically and can be used to convey emotions such as anger that are typically ignored in traditional funeral customs. There is no structure, and the memorial changes as people make...
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