Church funerals often cause a proxemics dilemma. The dilemma comes into play when the family wants the open casket in the front of sanctuary.

When the time comes for the family to say their last good-byes before the lid’s closed, they have to do something incredibly intimate and tearful in a public setting, with often a hundred or so onlookers watching as they cover their deceased loved one with the blanket, give a final kiss good-bye and say their last “I love you.”

The way we solve the dilemma is by having the pall bearers come forward and surround the family, creating a human wall so to speak, which allows the family to let all their humanity out before the lid is closed.

Celebrity deaths create the same dilemma. And there’s nobody who uses that dilemma better than Westboro Baptist Church.

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“Dumb ass.  He had it coming.”  That was my first thought when I heard about Jackass member Ryan Dunn’s death.

Ryan’s accident occurred roughly 20 miles from my house.  Maybe you’ve read about it, or watched the video of Bam weeping at the crash site and heard that Ryan’s BAC was twice the legal limit when he crashed his Porsche at 130 mph, killing himself and Zachary Hartwell.

What should the public’s response be to Ryan Dunn’s death? We’re entitled to a response, right?  I mean, he was a celebrity, he has a lot of young people who identify with him; and, his stupidity killed himself and his newly married passenger, leaving their friends and family with the ambiguous grief that has you wishing you could both punch and embrace the deceased all at once.

When you put your life in the public’s eye, the public is entitled to look into your death as well.  Right?

Roger Ebert felt entitled to comment when he tweeted, “Friends don’t let jackasses drive drunk”.  To which Bam Mergera replied in 139 characters, “I just lost my best friend, I have been crying hysterically for a full day and piece of s*** roger ebert has the gall to put in his 2 cents”.

MTV took a surprising moral stance when they stated, “even someone as seemingly immortal as the daredevil couldn’t survive the risk of drinking and driving.”

And, of course, the lovely people from Westboro embraced their right with this pithy comment: “(the) drab pervert hawked … filth to get rich off a perverse generation.”   And, they plan to protest his funeral.

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And I wonder if those of us who want to use Ryan’s death as an object lesson aren’t so different from Westboro?  I wonder if my response wasn’t that different?  We might not have the same message, but are we using the same means?

Grief is sacred.

Grief is holy.  It should be treated with reverence and maybe Bam’s response was right. When someone dies, shouldn’t we walk softly, speak graciously and allow for privacy?  And while it may be true that Dunn’s friends are celebrities, today they’re mourners.

This sacredness of grief is the reason so many of us hate the Westboro picketers, who picket the funerals of fallen soldiers, and any other funeral that can grab them some limelight.  We dislike what they’re doing because it transgresses one of the most sacred aspects of both our love and our humanity: the grief that comes from the loss of personal love.

As tempting as it is to use Dunn’s tragedy as an object lesson for the living, the lesson we should learn here is that even the celebrities that Dunn’s death affected need the space and permission to be human … they need the public to turn their back.  They deserve the space to grieve … as humans, they need the grace to grieve the loss of the person Ryan Dunn, their friend, that I too easily turned into an object for a life lesson.

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What do you think is the right response?  Are we wrong to say something, or are we wrong to say nothing?

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