The emotional power of collective mourning

“I don’t know why it affects me so much. » You may have heard this phrase often since the death of singer Karl Tremblay, which caused a wave of sadness in Quebec and among admirers in Europe. An anthropologist, a sociologist and a psychologist help us understand it.

It was late in Paris when Laure Turcati learned of the death of Karl Tremblay on Facebook. She immediately went to see her partner. “And I cried,” says the 39-year-old woman, who once lived in Quebec.

Karl Tremblay was not one of his close friends; Laure only knew him through the songs and shows of Cowboys Fringants. “It’s strange to be so sad, and for it to occupy your mind so much,” confides the mother. “What a singular emotion to feel in mourning for someone you have never spoken to, but whose voice is so familiar,” she wrote on Facebook. It is on social networks, moreover, that Laure Turcati found peace, reading the countless testimonies of admirers sharing her pain.

The sadness surrounding the death of the singer of Cowboys Fringants was reflected in spontaneous gatherings, tributes and testimonies. Tuesday, at the Bell Centre, a national tribute ceremony will be held in his honor. But in homes, far from the spotlight, many people shed tears while listening again to the songs that rocked the last two decades.

The anthropologist Luce Des Aulniers is interested in the mourning repercussions on the public level since the death of Princess Diana, in 1997. She draws the parallel between the death of Karl Tremblay and that of Guy Lafleur, in 2022, through the mythology of character, his determination, his simplicity. “With, as a bonus, music that is both so accurate and so impactful,” she says.


Jean-François Pauzé and Marie-Annick Lépine thanked the people of L’Assomption during a gathering in memory of Karl Tremblay the day after his death.

According to Luce Des Aulniers, the death of Karl Tremblay displays sensitivities in people that “mirror” those expressed by the Cowboys Fringants. Composed by Jean-François Pauzé and performed by Karl Tremblay, the songs in the group’s repertoire reflect as much the political universe as the intimate universe of the world in which we live, she says. Few artists have done it with such consistency and such fervor, believes the professor emeritus in the department of social and public communication at UQAM.

In deaths like that, we will mourn what we will miss, first of all simply because Les Cowboys Fringants has already made us feel more alive, more connected.

Luce Des Aulniers, anthropologist

This is what Laure Turcati feels. “What makes me sad is the energy of the concerts, the sharing with the public. »

According to Luce Des Aulniers, the death of Karl Tremblay can also generate a feeling of injustice and a form of concern in the face of this empty place.

Other sorrows

It is clear that manifestations of collective sadness are amplified by the media and social networks. But Luce Des Aulniers also sees it as a form of displacement towards other losses, other sorrows which could not be expressed. “It gives grief a legitimacy that it doesn’t have in our society,” says Luce Des Aulniers. Try crying on the subway…”

President of the Order of Psychologists of Quebec, Christine Grou has the same impression. “When there seems to be a disproportion between the emotion experienced and the knowledge we had of the person, we cry about many other things, too. It brings us back to the mourning we have done and to those who are to come. » Romain Pierron, who has followed Les Cowboys Fringants for 15 years, is aware that the death of Karl Tremblay takes him back to his own story. “I lost my father at the same age, 18 years ago,” he says.

Because Karl Tremblay was a 47-year-old father, and because of the human values ​​he conveyed, the public can easily identify with him, underlines psychologist Christine Grou. But his death, she says, is special: it also means the end of the Cowboys Fringants as we knew them. And for many, the group’s songs are closely associated with memories.

This is what happens when there is collective mourning: it’s as if we lost an era.

Christine Grou, psychologist

We should not underestimate the power of music, which punctuates the events of our lives, underlines sociologist Diane Pacom. “These are sounds that, arranged in a certain way, reflect the reality of an era and move the people of that era,” she says. In this sense, it is extraordinary. »


The Montreal Canadiens paid tribute to Karl Tremblay at the Bell Center on November 16.

Stéphanie Ruel, 32, has the impression of having grown up with Les Cowboys Fringants. The song At half-mast takes her back to when she was 10, when she understood what kind of world we live in. “I have never been so saddened by the death of an artist,” she confides.

Loss of bearings

In contemporary popular culture, singers are a bit like the saints of the Church of times past, believes Diane Pacom, professor emeritus in the faculty of social sciences at the University of Ottawa. “We not only develop affinities with them, but also almost family relationships,” she observes. These characters, she says, create networks, tribes: either because we love them or because we hate them.

“These are phenomena that consolidate society,” summarizes Diane Pacom. These people become landmarks. When they die, it’s horrible for those who loved them. »

What to do with this sadness? Transform it into action, believes Luce Des Aulniers. The Cowboys Fringants knew how to embody creative indignation, ecological awareness, compassion, tenderness. “The power of this sadness can be transposed into small and large concrete commitments. And that is the most faithful tribute to a legacy,” she concludes.

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