Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Best Mourning Ever

With the debut of TLC’s newest reality series Best Funeral Ever, professional mourners (or moirologists) have been thrust back into the public eye. Clips of the show highlight interviews for prospective employees where they must display their ability to wail and weep for up to two hours. The idea is that grief, like laughter, is infectious and once a few people get the ball rolling the weeping will continue of its own accord. 
The BBQ Casket from Best Funeral Ever
Many defenders of professional mourning point to Biblical references to the practice. In the Book of Jeremiah, God himself appears to require their services, “Call for the wailing women to come; send for the most skillful of them. Let them come quickly and wail over us till our eyes overflow with tears and water streams from our eyelids.” (9:17-18) Not only does God acknowledge their existence, he indicates a sort of lamenting hierarchy where some practitioners exhibit more skill than others.

In a New York Times article from 1877 titled “Professional Weepers,” the writer acknowledges hired mourning as a long held custom in the Orient that would be rather convenient if you lost an uncle that you weren’t particularly fond of. Instead of feigning anguish for a couple of hours, you could simply hire some local talent to give him a proper sendoff. The author insists that “The American will die when occasion requires, but he will never disgrace himself by public and demonstrative sniveling.”

Moirologists, while somewhat rare in the United States, are still prevalent in many Indian cultures where a practice known as oppari involves a group of women who will perform at the funerals of local residents and sing mourning songs. Even in India, actual statistics are difficult to come by since most professional mourners do not advertise their services and there is no formal training for the practice.

I believe that professional mourning is primed to make a big comeback in Western culture. Each one of us has an acquaintance blessed with a morose predisposition who is constantly upset about something. Why not put that sniveling to work and generate some disposable income in the process? I am sure there are plenty of moderately-wealthy Americans, whose family despises their very existence but still wishes to ensure they are properly lamented over.

At first the idea of compensating someone for pretending to be distraught over my passing seemed offensive, but the more I thought about it, the more attractive the idea became. This is especially true if, say, your spouse or offspring have a competitive nature and would attempt to “out-mourn” the hired help. Once the sadness began escalating, everyone within a two mile radius would remember my memorial service. I would even have Willem Dafoe flown in so that he could recreate the movie poster for Platoon while Adagio for Strings played in the background.

Pretty soon, DeVry will be offering two year degrees in contractual sobbing and various standardized tests will be used to determine one’s sorrow factor. Before you know it, we will have the first malpractice suit filed against a moirologist for underselling their grief. Since I assume only the closest family members would be involved with the hiring of professional mourners, I always wondered how the mourner would respond if Cousin Tom inquired as to how they knew the deceased. I suppose the easiest way out would be to place your hand over your eyes and admit that “It was just too painful to talk about.”

Having done some research I have identified the following professional mourner techniques for those interested in a second career:

The Casket Crawl* – Overcome with grief, the mourner falls to their hands and knees as they approach the coffin of the deceased. This may or may not involve the placement of an outstretched trembling hand on the burial apparatus.

The Platoon – As detailed previously, this consists of facing the heavens with outstretched hands in supplication to the Lord. Must be accompanied by forceful utterances of disbelief (Why God Why!?! etc..)

The Wail & Bail* –This consists of a series of guttural noises emitted during opportune pauses in the proceedings. The implication is that the trauma of the loss has rendered them unable to form words leaving them with only primal howls. They will often step outside to “regain their composure” only to reappear as needed.

The Duck & Tuck – Here, the aggrieved places their hands on their head and their head between their legs while rocking back and forth in a steady, rhythmic motion. This outward display is meant to signify the inward emotional tumult. 

The Stare & Shake –Wearing a blank expression, the practitioner punctuates each and every sentence of the eulogy by emphatically shaking their heads in disbelief. Their unfocused gaze indicates the bleak future they foresee without the presence of the departed.

The Finisher – Essential to any successfully-staged send off, these sleeper cells remain unmoved until the final moments of the service when, being unable to contain their emotional torment, they collapse in a grand finale of distress.

* Indicates suggested use of a “grieving accomplice” to further convey the practitioner’s debilitating anguish.

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