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Should There Be a Modern-Day Mourning Period?

Should There Be a Modern-Day Mourning Period?

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Yesterday, I was indulging in my weekly guilty pleasure by way of The New York Times wedding section when I came across a story about an elite cyclist named Kathryn (also a writer) who was training for the Olympics when she moved to Tucson, where she became part of the close-knit cycling community there. Although she didn't make the Olympics, she did make a lot of friends — including a young woman named Colleen whom she raced against and Colleen's husband, George. Colleen had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, and four years later, at age 31, she died from it. The Tucson cycling community rallied around George, raising more than $60,000 to benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation and doing whatever they could to support him through his time of grief.

After about a month passed, Kathryn — who had traveled to Austin, Texas, with "Team Colleen" to participate in the Livestrong Challenge as part of their fundraising efforts — called George to see how he was doing. She told him if he ever wanted to get coffee or go for a ride and talk, she was there for him. As Kathryn told The Times, her gesture had nothing to do with romance. "I was reaching out to a friend who was hurting," she told the reporter. "A few days later, he said he'd like to go for a ride."

They went mountain biking — something Kathryn had done only once before — and bonded as they bounced over some tough trails. (That's an activity that, unbeknownst to them, I'm sure, incorporates three of the four elements that a psychologist told me would help people to bond on a date.)

That first expedition led to more rides, during which Kathryn and George did a lot of talking and slowly got to know each other.

Somewhere along the way, their feelings for each other began to change ...

When they announced they were getting engaged that July, some of their close friends and relatives were taken aback, wondering if it was too soon.

You might say, however, that Colleen had already blessed their union. Shortly before she passed away, she urged George to love again. "The first time she said it, it felt like I got kicked in the chest," he told The Times. "She said, ‘You're going to need a companion.' She was giving me permission to move on, to love, and to be happy."

And the love between Kathryn and George took most people's doubts away quickly. Kathryn's best friend explained to the Times reporter how she got over her initial hesitation: "I've known Kathryn since she was three years old, and I have never seen her so happy. ... Love is never perfect. It's always messy. But when it happens, it's glorious."

So Kathryn and George got married over the weekend.

This story made me wonder what all of you think about whether or not there should be a modern-day mourning period. After all, in 19th-century England, widows were supposed to wear black clothes for two years, to show their sorrow, and they weren't supposed to enter society for 12 months. Widowers weren't supposed to attend any entertainments for a year, and social conventions in the U.S. were similar. I assume people felt it necessary to encourage such behavior in order to show respect to the deceased — although my guess is that such practices were also deeply rooted in superstition, in the idea that the dead had some control over life.

My take is that although people should be given plenty of time to work through their emotions after a huge loss, they shouldn't feel forced to mourn for an excessive amount of time and also shouldn't feel guilty about naturally developing feelings for someone they get to know as they were working through their grief.

I imagine George's mother would agree with that. She lost her first husband to leukemia when she was 38, and remarried her current husband (George's step-father) two years later. She was deeply in love with George's father when he died, and it was the depth of her feelings for him that drove her to find someone else to care about, as she told The Times. And I think that's a wonderfully healthy and resilient response: Rather than thinking, "I've loved and lost, and I will never be able to love that way again," George's mother thought (or so it seems to be), "I learned to love deeply, and that will help me understand how to love again." Good for her. And good luck to Kathryn and George.

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