Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead.
The grim and sorrowful constellation of thoughts and emotions we’re experiencing right now, that’s grief. The word comes from the Old French term grever meaning “afflict, burden, oppress,” which is from the Latin gravare, which meant “to make heavy.” Grief is heavy; it weighs us down.
The outward expression of grief, that’s mourning. Mourning has a more complex origin. It comes from a Proto-Indo-European root which, because of linguistic convention, is usually written as *(s)mer. It refers to the act of remembrance, reflection, recollection. Mourning is how we use our memories and understanding of the dead to gradually reduce the awful weight of our grief.
Grief is what we feel; mourning is what we do.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about that. Our grief is both personal and communal. We grieve for what she means to us personally, we grieve for her family and friends, we grieve for what her death might mean for the concept of equal justice under law in the United States. It’s good that we grieve; it’s right that we grieve.
But our grief is less important than how we mourn her — how we collectively express our grief and how you as an individual will express your grief. Is making RBG your Facebook icon enough to lighten your grief? Will wearing your Notorious RBG t-shirt alleviate your grief? What about voting, will that help? What about getting others to vote? Volunteering to drive others to the polls? Donating money or labor to a candidate? What about calling both of your senators on Monday, and asking them NOT to vote on a successor to RGB’s seat until after the election/inauguration? Will that do it?
Here’s a True Thing: your grief is your grief. Nobody gets to tell you how to express it. Nobody gets to tell you the proper way for you to mourn. Nobody gets to tell you how much you have to mourn or what that mourning should include. Nobody gets to tell you what RBG would want from you. Mourn her in your own way.
But mourn her. Right now, it’s enough to grieve. Right now, it’s okay to give into your grief. Let yourself fully experience your grief. Then start actively mourning.
Obscure and Semi-inappropriate Addendum: That Proto-Indo-European root *(s)mer is also the source of the name of Mimir, the Norse god who guarded the Mímisbrunnr, the Well of Wisdom. Mimir, not surprisingly, was known for his judgment, his sagacity, his knowledge. None of that, unfortunately, prevented him being beheaded in the battle between the Æsir and the Vanir (don’t ask; we’re talking Norse mythology, so it’s complicated). After the battle, Odin found Mimir’s body and collected his head (as gods do). He did some sort of god-thing to Mimir’s head so he could tote it around with him and continue to get Mimir’s advice.
Metaphorically, we can do the same with RBG. We can carry our memory of her around with us. We can ask ourselves ‘What would RBG do?’ and then try to do it. That’s proper mourning, right there.