Life is normally expected to proceed through childhood, youth, adulthood and old age. What happens then if death occurs at some earlier phase of life and not at a far distant time in people’s everyday lives? This will most often be a sudden and unexpected death. How do the nearest family, friends and acquaintances of the deceased cope with this? How and why are new rituals created, how are they spread, and what meaning do they have for the people who are thrust into difficult situations? These are the questions that will be discussed in this paper. The emphasis is on the present day.
The public marking of sudden death by means of collective actions has become far more prominent in recent years in comparison to the past times. This can be seen at sites where a traffic accident, a murder, or manslaughter has occurred, and in connection with memorials to fishermen who have lost their lives at sea.
A behavioural pattern having mostly to do with young people who have perished or been killed has obviously been the subject of fairly rapid cultivation. A generational gap is obvious in such incidents. The youth thus become the centre of attention in that they are the most active and inventive.
There is no doubt that newspapers have been instrumental in the spread of these new rituals that commemorate young victims of unexpected death, with their articles and, especially, their photographs from the scenes of traffic accidents or murders. The newspapers’ clearly increasing interest in life’s tragic occurrences has led to a noticeable change in attitude that indicates that such tragedy no longer must be kept secret. Instead, it can be commemorated more openly in public and within one’s social group. Solidarity and collectivism have become important key words in traumatic situations at the expense of individuality and privacy. This is a primary change in the study of rituals around sudden death in recent times.
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