Bring Out Yer Dead, Mr. Santorum! – UPDATED

Those of us who work in alternative media–particularly we who run blogs, which require daily updating and a continual perusal of news in order to remain relevant–run a high risk of becoming so inured to non-stop political spin, and so desensitized to public rudeness that we become not just observers, but bobbing participants in the overheated muck and stew of the daily outrage, the daily hysteria, the daily meme. Mired in the thick of things, we can lose sight of the depths of madness to which our society has so swiftly slipped. When one is riding a roller coaster, after all, even the hairiest swoop begins to seem like a reasonable and expected part of the ride.

While on vacation last week I made a point of avoiding all news and news byproducts and all internet access, so I had missed a few headlines, including the news that immediately after Rick Santorum’s virtual tie for the top spot in Iowa, Pundit One and Pundit Two had taken to the airways to declare Santorum “crazy” and “very weird” for doing precisely what bereavement experts suggest grieving parents of stillborns or short-lived infants do: holding their dead infant son and talking to him and letting the siblings meet him.

I opine about it all while remembering my some family tales about in-house wakes, in my column today at First Things:

Most infamous among these was the circa 1930 wake of one “Uncle Charlie” a child-beating brute who died of a stomach cancer but not before being written up in a medical journal, for–my mother claimed–”being the curious case of a man burning out his gut from his own acid hate.”

My mother, who often bore the brunt of his wrath, was six or seven years old at Charlie’s passing, and she recounted approaching his laid-out body with great care, just in case he still had a slap left in him. The rest of the family had moved from the parlor (“we called them parlors, then”) to the kitchen to take either liquid or solid suppers. “There was a cube of ice, somewhere in that box, but I don’t know that,” she said, “and as the thing melted, Charlie shifted in the box. I screamed ‘he’s alive, he’s alive!’ and tore into the kitchen, and Uncle Joe brought me back out along with a plate of beef and carrots and potatoes and laid it on Uncle Charlie’s chest; ‘shush, ye child, he just wants to be included’.”

Hearing these stories in an age where death had been moved out of the parlor and into the funeral home, it was both spooky and exotic to consider that once upon a time people took care of their own dead; they washed the bodies and made them presentable, and then invited the neighbors in to toast him farewell, “everyone came,” my mother said. “See, they wanted to make sure he was dead, but even the mailman stepped in and tipped his hat and had a healthy dose to his memory.”

Death, for the people of that era, and every era before, was no stranger and brought no squeamishness. There was nothing mysterious about death beyond those questions we still ask–will we see them again in the next life, and why, so often, do the good die young while old bastards hold forth for far too long? A family mourned and drank, and fought and keened and then stumbled into church for the funeral; they buried their beloved and stumbled about some more, and life went on.

Read the whole thing, here. Rick Santorum and his wife are neither nutty nor weird. Considering that up until about 80 years ago it was the norm for a family to have custody of the body of their loved ones until the funeral (and that is still true in many places in the world) I can’t help thinking some are a bit weird in their fastidiousness. And crazy in their need to politicize absolutely everything under the sun.

Related:
When it comes to death, we’re the biggest liars

UPDATE:
Tim Dalrymple posts his interview with Santorum
on how JFK mislead the country on faith and politics. Interesting!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.friendsofportia.blogspot.com Judith L

    Thank you, Anchoress. Welcome back to the crazy house.

  • daisy

    Yes indeed the people who have attacked Mr. and Mrs. Santorum are cruel and horrible. However, none of this would’ve happened if Santorum hadn’t told the story in his book. If you don’t want your personal business criticized or discussed then don’t tell it at all.

    [I know people say that, but I don't know if I agree with it. Al Gore talked about his sister's early death, and I don't recall anyone politicizing it. Politicians are in a hard place: if you don't talk about EVERYTHING, you're accused of hiding something. Then if you talk about everything, you're told "well, you talked about it, so it's all 'fair game'." I think there really does have to be some sort of common sense line that people should be able to find, for themselves. If these pundits absolutely HAD to discuss the death of Gabriel Santorum and how the Santorums handled it, there had to be better, less politicizing and slightly more respectful ways to do it. What Colmes and Robinson engaged in was hackery. They gleefully found a way to play a "crazy" and "weird" card moments after Santorum's victory in Iowa? Sorry. There are PLENTY of substantial criticisms they could have made about Santorum; they chose to go for the sensational. It was unnecessary. It crossed that line of decency that used to be instinctive, but which we apparently are completely losing as a divided and partisan, over-politicized people. -admin]

  • Momma Kyle

    Dear Daisy,
    Mrs. Santorum was a neonatal nurse, she, not her husband, wrote “Letters to Gabriel” in an effort to reach out to others who had lost an infant. She knew from her personal and professional experience how important it is to not just pretend that the child never existed. As a mother in a similar situation, that book was a lifeline for me.
    To use this against her husband is beyond low.

  • http://causa-nostrae-laetitiae..blogspot.com Leticia Velasquez

    I lost three babies to miscarriage. The first time, I was in such shock, I allowed the OB to take the remains of my son to “the lab” without thinking about what that meant. The thought that my child may be disposed of like poor aborted babies, in medical waste, haunted me. Finally I researched and discovered that in my Catholic hospital, unborn children’s remains are put to rest in a common plot in a local Catholic cemetery. I felt comforted to know this.
    The next two times I miscarried, I buried my children’s remains with their grandmother in our family plot in the same cemetery. My priest told me it was proper. I memorialized them in the book at the Shrine of the Holy Innocents in NYC. The book which inspired me to take such care of my children. to name them and bury them was Karen Santorum’s “Letters to Gabriel”.
    Last night, I finally had the opportunity to thank Karen personally for her example and her book. If we truly want a culture of life, we participate in the corporal work of mercy and bury our dead with love, and dignity.

  • Brian English

    “However, none of this would’ve happened if Santorum hadn’t told the story in his book. If you don’t want your personal business criticized or discussed then don’t tell it at all.”

    So the Santorums were “asking for it” because they revealed an excruciatingly painful event in their lives in the hope that they could help others going through such a trial? What an absolutely disgusting culture we have allowed to come into existence.

  • http://elizabethk-fthnfort.blogspot.com/ Elizabeth K.

    These people are jackals. Pray for them. To criticize a family for the loving way they handled a terrible loss, and which Mrs. Santorum wrote about to help other families, is just beyond the pale. Anyone who thinks “they wrote about it, so they should be good with any kind of commentary on it” is really missing the point. This is like mocking someone for, say, seeking therapy after a divorce. It’s not only heartless, it’s incredibly stupid and adolescent. This is what people often do when they lose a child, particularly in this manner. Grown-up non-jackals are capable of understanding that.

  • doc

    Now Brian, the Santorums were “asking for it” when they decided to be Republicans. These corporte media people just know that all decent people are Democrats. So if someone wants to be treated decently, they had better be a Democrat, or all bets are off. Just ask Sarah Palin, Clarence Thomas, and Condi Rice about feminist and racial sensitivities being cast aside when the target has the poor taste to be a Republican.

  • newton

    “However, none of this would’ve happened if Santorum hadn’t told the story in his book. If you don’t want your personal business criticized or discussed then don’t tell it at all.”

    Under the same argument, if a raped woman doesn’t want to be humiliated in public for telling her story and making people aware of the dangers out there, it’s better for her not to say a thing at all.

    See, that’s one thing that makes cowards and cold-heart beings out of people.

    The Santorums not only mourned their dead preemie properly: they also told others as a way for parents under the same situation not to be ashamed of mourning a child born and dead before due time, and as publicly as possible. Death is a part of life, even for little ones. Even the go-to manual on pregnancy and childbirth, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”, says that parents must be able to mourn their dead infant properly and memorialize him/ her in whatever way they see fit. The Santorums did exactly that.

    But you say “If they didn’t want to be slammed for it, they shouldn’t have said a thing about it.” Tell that to another set of mourning parents in the same situation. Try it.

    “So the Santorums were “asking for it” because they revealed an excruciatingly painful event in their lives in the hope that they could help others going through such a trial? What an absolutely disgusting culture we have allowed to come into existence.”

    Tell me about it. There’s gotta be more people out there who answer back to them with a big, fat “HOW DARE YOU?!?”


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