In previous blog posts (Grieving & Mourning I, II and III), I discussed the first three of four “tasks” or “steps” that occur as part of the grieving process:
- accept the reality of the loss,
- work through the pain of grief,
- adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing, and
- emotionally relocate the deceased and move on with life.
The final task involves coming to the realization that one can move beyond the pain of grief without forgetting or dishonouring the deceased, such as through acts of commemoration and remembrance. There are many ways in which disaster songs can help with this task. The disaster song itself is commemorative, reminding listeners of the disaster it retells. In some songs, specific people are named so that they won’t be forgotten.
The frequency of mining deaths from the late nineteenth century and through most of the twentieth meant that, particularly for those outside mining communities, they could blur together and become undifferentiated. However, for the people directly affected by the disasters, they were deeply personal and distinct. Songs help to distinguish events by giving each its own identity. In a society dominated by sound bites, 3-5 minute songs also offer a comparatively long moment during which a listener has time to reflect upon the disaster and its significance for the community involved.
Benefit concerts and anniversary events offer two other ways to commemorate disasters through music. Ever since Live Aid in 1985, high-profile concerts with international stars and broad television coverage have become de rigeur for high-profile disasters. However, many more local benefit concerts are held and may still draw attendees from beyond the immediate community. For example, a benefit concert was held in Halifax after the 1992 Westray disaster while the 50th anniversary of the 1958 Springhill disaster was marked in 2008, both events drawing prominent artists from around the country and beyond, and both featuring disaster songs. Like individual songs, concerts help to differentiate one disaster from another, giving it its own identity. And like songs, they give the grieving population, whether local, regional or national, the socially-acceptable opportunity to express sadness while providing the time to reflect upon the disaster and the people involved. These events commemorate those who died and acknowledge the pain of survivors. Concert audiences demonstrate to mourners that they are not alone and that their reactions and responses to the events are normal but also manageable. Of course, they also provide eminently practical financial assistance.
In what other ways might disaster songs or concerts help with the process of moving on?
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