Who should we mourn?

By Caitlin Kelly


In the past few months, three famous people have died, two of whose deaths widely elicited public scorn, derision and relief: Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, former Toronto mayor (and admitted drug user while in office) Rob Ford.

The late Pritzker Award-winning architect Zaha Hadid was by all accounts a brilliant tough cookie — who one acquaintance of mine immediately dismissed as a woman who only created properties for the world’s wealthiest.

I wonder about the wisdom of this.

I asked a friend in her 30s what she thought, a fellow journalist, a thoughtful person.

“They’re celebrities. They don’t feel like real people to us.”

I wonder about this as well.

There are people — serial killers, perpetrators of terrorism and genocide — whose deaths, natural or murdered, we don’t grieve. Those boundaries seem clear enough to me.

There are people within our own families, people who perpetrated sexual, physical and/or emotional abuse, whose deaths we might also greet with a sigh of relief.

Here’s a powerful essay, from Bust, by a 26-year-old woman whose abusive mother died, and how that felt for her.


I attended a funeral about a decade ago, of a man whose widow and adult daughter share an apartment hallway with us. We have never socialized and likely never will; we’re very different sorts of people. We say hello in the hallway and parking lot.

But when their father and husband was dying a horrible death of cancer, we helped them connect with a hospice and, when he died, we went to his funeral.

I was stunned to see how empty it was. I doubt more than a dozen people were there, and this for a local man.

I wondered, then as now, why so few people cared enough to come and pay their respects; I’ve attended funerals that were practically standing room only, filled with people utterly distraught at their loss.

Why did this man’s death go so un-mourned? What had he said or done (or left unsaid or un-done?)

For public figures like Scalia, Ford and Hadid, we have access to reams of information about them and their work, their public behavior and accomplishments, sometimes their struggles.

Those who knew them best might not feel comfortable sharing more intimate details, so we’re left with broad outlines.

Many people loathed Scalia and Ford for their misogyny and for holding power over so many lives while espousing values they disagreed with.


They were also human.

They left behind people who loved them deeply and respected them.

Do they, too, deserve to be mourned?

I say yes.

What do you think?


8 thoughts on “Who should we mourn?

  1. LRose

    How we choose to mourn is the issue as I see it. My father abhored funerals and memorials and wouldn’t attend … even his parents and son who proceeded him in death. He got a lot of flack for it but he was undeterred. He wasn’t unsupportive or uncarring. He simply wished to mourn privately. Now, whether in life we moved many or just a few to feel the significance of our loss when we’re gone is another matter.

  2. this is a challenge in some situations. yes, most everyone has someone who loves them and mourns their leaving. depending on how that person has treated those in their world, the mourning may not be as visible, or may appear to be lacking. only those who have truly known that person have the right to decide how they will deal with the situation. i agree, it is unfair to dismiss unpopular figures, in the public or not, and it is right to respect those who may mourn them.

  3. My first thought regarding Mr. Scalia’s death was, gee, they could have waited a bit longer before starting to debate who to replace him with. Seems like the fact of his death was not as concerning as was the position he left open. So I obviously think that any death deserves a period of respect. Who one mourns though, is I think, an inner personal matter that differs with each person and each circumstance.

  4. Grief or gladness, it’s all energy. It’s the fuel of immortality. Are not Mother Teresa and Torquemada similarly familiar, similarly alive in the greater Human consciousness, though for obviously different reasons?
    Jack Kerouac expressed the hope that he would live on in the hearts and minds of those who knew him and his work, and that his presence in their minds would give them life as well. A tender sentiment, to be sure.
    It has been said that the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy. Its the extinguisher of immortality.
    Without a doubt it’s for each of us to choose: Love, hate, forget. It’s not for anyone else to question your choice. You go to sleep with it every night, or maybe you don’t.

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