You may have seen, as I did, the rather grisly sight of two sets of remains that had been interred in a glacier for 75 years but were recently unearthed by melting ice. The bodies are apparently those of a Swiss couple, Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin, who went on a walk to feed their cows in August of 1942 and were never heard from again. They left behind seven young children. Apparently the Dumoulins stepped into a glacier and were lost, then their bodies were entombed in ice.
A surviving daughter, now 79, is gratified that the bodies have been found. She said that the seven children never stopped looking for their parents. Now the bodies, or the bones and artifacts that remain, can be laid properly to rest, and she is at peace.
I’m struck by how important it is, as part of the process of coming to terms with loss, to have the bodies of the dead, to perform some kind of ritual, and to know what happened to bring about the end of people who were loved.
In 2016, prominent Rochesterians Larry and Jane Glazer died in the crash of their small plane near the coast of Jamaica. The plane apparently lost pressurization, both Glazers fell unconscious, and the plane continued in the air until it ran out of gas. Initially the Jamaican coast guard was unable to find the crash site, although radar showed approximately where the plane had entered the water. The Glazer family had the means to hire a private search company, and the plane and their parents’ bodies were rapidly located and returned to Rochester.
I also recall a friend whose uncle was killed in Europe during World War II, notification made to the family but the body never specifically located or returned. My friend said that his grandmother never stopped hoping it was a mistake, that her beloved youngest son would one day come walking through the door to embrace her and say the nightmare of his imagined loss was over.
In a sense it hardly matters — dead is dead, and what difference does it make how, or whence the body. A ritual of closure can be done in any case, and the work of coming to terms with the loss begins. But it does make a difference, in ways that are hard to articulate.
I welcome your thoughts on this.