Brexit: How religion can help those mourning loss of EU citizenship – Joe Goldblatt

Brexit: How religion can help those mourning loss of EU citizenship – Joe Goldblatt

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For those who valued being a member of the European Union, losing citizenship as a result of Brexit can be like the death of a loved one, writes Professor Joe Goldblatt.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are commonly accepted as the five stages or framework for loss and grief as identified by the death and dying scholar Dr Elisabeth Kubler Ross. During the past three years, I have, because of the impending loss of my membership in the European Union, like many others, experienced all five of these stages and the accompanying emotions that underpin them.

One of the ways that human beings rationalise and normalise great trauma is through developing a series of rituals and ceremonies to create some sort of order out of the chaos of losing a loved one. As I struggle with mourning the loss of my membership in the European community, I shall be using these rituals to heal, grow stronger and better cope with the outcome of this reality.

In my Jewish tradition, death of a close loved one is often seen as a deep wound. This is one reason why in ancient times a Jew who was in mourning would render (tear) his or her outer garments to show others that they have literally been wounded by grief. In modern times, Jewish mourners may instead wear a small black ribbon to indicate to others that they are in mourning.

Generally, the Jewish mourning period lasts for one year from the death of a loved one. During the cemetery service, the mourners will sometimes pause seven times whilst carrying the deceased to their grave. This is to show that there is reluctance in letting go of their loved one.

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In the first week, strict-observant Jews will conduct a Shiva service at the home of the mourners and the mourners will sit upon low stools to indicate that their life has been diminished by loss. Those who attend the Shiva may offer their sympathy and some may tell the mourners that “you should only have good news in the future”.

‘The art of losing’

Following the first week of mourning, the Jewish mourners will remember their lost loved one during personal prayers or weekly services and, at the end of the first year, a memorial stone may be unveiled.

Each of these steps in mourning is designed to comfort the bereaved and help them return to as much normality as possible following the catastrophic loss of their loved one. Whilst loss is a natural part of living, it is nonetheless a shock. The poet Elizabeth Bishop seeks to explain loss in her poem The Art of Losing.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

During the past three months, I have lost 15 close family and friends. Although most of these deaths were expected due to my own advanced age and the age of my loved ones, the sheer number of losses has made this very difficult for me. And now, in addition to these individual loved ones, I have lost the entire European Union.

When my wife and I immigrated to Scotland 13 years ago, we did not expect to become Europeans. However, after six years of residency, we were able to apply for United Kingdom and European Union citizenship.

As we completed dozens of forms, paid substantial funds and finally joined other immigrants in publicly reciting an oath to our new country, we did so with the faith that we were joining other Europeans to work together and create better lives for our children and grandchildren in the future.

Restoring my lost soul

Now all of that is being taken away and I join millions of others in mourning this profound loss. Therefore, having studied the art and science of rituals and ceremonies for nearly 50 years, I knew that I must create my own rituals to reflect, restore and renew my faith. Perhaps these shall help you as well.

First, I shall spend a few moments reflecting upon all of the excellent benefits that I have enjoyed as a European and give thanks for these unique gifts. In the Jewish tradition, mourners recite the Kaddish or memorial prayer that actually praises the almighty even at a time when we are experiencing great sadness. This lifting up of our spirit helps us to take the next step which is restoration.

Secondly, I shall commit myself to restoring my lost soul, as Elizabeth Bishop states at the end of her poem.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

Thirdly and finally, I shall kindle a blue memorial candle. The blue colour represents the European Flag and, as I watch the flame, I shall believe with all my heart that one day I shall renew my citizenship with Europe and in the intervening days I shall work toward that goal.

Just as my Jewish tradition views death is seen as a wound that will heal and leave a scar to remind us of the love that endures forever, I hope that my wound from losing Europe will also transition through these mourning rites into even greater and deeper love in the future.

Therefore, through my European mourning rite of reflection, restoration and renewal, I have sought to create my own framework for loss and grief regarding the loss of my loved ones, the 512 million people of the European Union. Once again, I will turn to Elizabeth Bishop to try and master the art of losing.

— Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is emeritus professor of planned events at Queen Margaret University and he has studied ceremonies and rituals in various cultures for nearly 50 years. To learn more about Professor Goldblatt’s work visit

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