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Why we must grieve

All this week on Stateside, in our series Living with Death, we're talking to people about how the process of death and dying has changed. Today we talk about why we must grieve when someone we love has died.

Imagine if your friends referred to you as “the death lady.” That’s what Kim Parr’s friends like to call her and honestly, she has mixed feelings about the nickname.

Parr directs the Macomb County Historical Society & Crocker House Museum in Mount Clemens and she’s an expert in old funeral and mourning customs.

She often dresses up in Victorian mourning clothing and lectures groups about the ways we once buried and mourned our dead. Last fall she coordinated an event for the public called a “cemetery walk,” which featured actors inside the St. Peter Cemetery in Mount Clemens. The actors dressed in period costumes and presented monologues as if they were the dead come to life, to tell their stories.  

Actor Calvin Carson portrayed Henry Lightbourne, 1880-1973, on the cemetery walk

But there was a time when Parr knew very little about death and grief.  When she was 16, Parr’s father died suddenly of an aneurysm.  

“I think for a year I felt like I was in the twilight zone. It was so shocking and your whole world has changed. But everybody’s still going on and on and doing the same things. You just want to say stop, and say this isn’t fair! But that’s life, we go on.”

When she was in her twenties, Parr’s best friend was murdered. She says both of those deaths were exceptionally hard to deal with.

Clinical social worker Sallie Foley says it’s essential we go through the mourning process. She says when we mourn our dead, we are grieving the loss of the attachments we’ve made in our life. She says the idea of “just getting over it” does not serve us well.

“All of life is loss. We don’t want to get over life too fast. We want to learn to live with life and that includes living with loss.”  

She says mourning is a way of taking the love we had for that person and finding ways to remember them inside of ourselves.

Part of the cemetery walk in the St. Peter Cemetery in Mount Clemens

“Whether we’re 10 years old or 28, or 88, at each age we revisit that loss in a new context and in a new understanding of who we are now.”

Kim Parr says she’s grappled for years with guilt about her best friend’s death and her father’s death. In fact, it’s been decades and she is still processing those very big losses in her life. 

Even though she’s known as “the death lady,” Parr says some days her heart is just not in it and she doesn’t feel like teaching people about death and funerals.

But she says there’s a kind of pull with this work and it won’t quite let her go. Parr says if she’s helping people get more comfortable with death then she figures she’s doing something good.

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