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An old (circa 1980s) photo of a woman with curly dark hair, standing in the sea. She is wearing a white tank top and black shorts, and is facing the camera with her head turned away, looking towards the sun. A small child with blonde hair is standing in front of her, and the woman's hands are on the child's shoulders.

Batman Memorial Page

The play 'BATMAN' mourns the loss of playwright Naomi Westerman's mother, Lyn Westerman, and celebrates the power of communitas and communal grieving, via the medium of the Jewish shiva ceremony. This online memorial page exists to explain a little more about these concepts, and for anyone who is grieving a lost loved one to engage in their own act of remembrance. 

Please use the form at the bottom of the page to write a note to or about someone you have lost, and you can also light a virtual candle.

Thank you for visiting.

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COMMUNITAS AND COMMUNAL GRIEF

"Communitas is a concept created by anthropologist Victor Turner, based on his experiences studying religious pilgrimage. 

Communitas is a Latin word referring either to an unstructured community in which people are equal, or to the very spirit of community. It is used in anthropology to describe something that happens when a group of people, removed from everyday society to a liminal state where all are equal, joined in the shared pursuit of some higher goal, experience a shared heightened emotional state. Like a football stadium errupting when a goal is scored. Or an entire theatre audience reduced to tears. 

Edith Turner (Victor's wife, and a respected anthropologist in her own right) summarised communitas as "inspired fellowship [...] a group's unexpected joy in sharing common experiences [and] the sense felt by a group when their life together takes on full meaning."


Part of my work as an anthropologist and writer has been exploring secular (ie in a non-religious context) communitas and its relationship to communal grieving. English culture does not have much of a tradition of communal grieving, and grief in England is often considered a very private, personal thing. Other countries and cultures formalise communal grieving through ritual practises." Naomi Westerman.

SHIVA

In Judaism, when someone dies their family, friends and loved ones spent seven days in a ritualised mourning period called sitting shiva. The deceased's immediate family spent the initial seven days mainly in their home, being supported by friends and loved ones. This begins with a period of time called "aninut" (Hebrew for "intense mourning") which lasts until the funeral, which is traditionally is conducted within 24 hours of a death. During this the bereaved is exempt from many responsibilities and considered to be in a state of extreme shock. For the rest of the seven days of shiva, the bereaved refrain from working, going to school, listening to music, having sex, bathing, looking in mirrors, and often refrain from cooking. They receive visitors, who are expected to provide food, and sharing food is a crucial part of shiva (especially eggs, baked goods, and sweet treats). It's also traditional to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish.

 

An animated gif of a candle

"I was unable to sit shiva when my mother died, so it brought me great comfort to be able to share my Jewish faith with the audience, and explain the significance of shiva. Many audience members and critics mentioned the communal candle-lighting scene in the play as a particularly emotional and moving highlight, and I'm grateful that audiences embraced this in the spirit it was intended: to create space and time to pause, think, and reflect." - Naomi Westerman

Whether you personally lost someone to Covid or not, we as a society have lost so much since the start of the pandemic, and desperately need to find ways to discuss our grief. So many people were denied the chance to say goodbye, and Zoom funerals became part of the new normal. As we try to move on from the horrors of the last few years, how can we find ways to express our feelings and support each other through grief?

The it turns out extremely friendly Bronx teenagers helped knock my handbag to the ground, albeit laughing at me, which is fair. But still the tiny thief refused to yield. He's smelled chocolate and would not give up his trophy. Alas the zipper gap was just big enough for his own body, not enough for a bag of Wal*Mart's finest Reeses' peanut butter cups.

Again and again we battled, until finally we managed together to open the zipper. Wallet keys and 15 lipbalms scattered, but all I could see was a fluffy tail bouncing up and down into the distance, bearing an orange bag larger than its owner.

Now, back in London, I feed the squirrels in the park next to my building, so tame they politely wait in circles around me and gentle take cashew nuts directly from my hand. One even knows how to walk on his hind legs.

Telling this story to a group of Americans recently, exclaiming at the difference between American and British squirrels, on Louisiana native remarked, "Yeah, we have some ratchet-ass squ'alls in America."

Ratchet Ass Squ'alls is my band name.

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