The Weeping Woman

Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.


On the banks of the Sante Fe River, la llorona grieves. Before she became la llorona, her name was Maria. She loved and was scorned by a wealthy ranchero. When she found her husband with another woman, she threw their children into the river—perhaps because they had his blood, perhaps because she was already too much a ghost to touch him. Now, her weeping figure is tethered to the site of the tragedy. She reminds us of death’s permanence, and its nearness.


In Ancient Greece, it was women’s responsibility to grieve. They lead the prothesis, chanting funeral dirges and pulling at their hair. They beat their breasts with their fists, and wailed. It is not important whether or not they meant it. It is more important that it was the woman’s duty to watch over the dead—to wash and anoint the body, to tuck a token under the tongue. The women of Ancient Greece wept first, so the men had a guide to follow.


Now, it is the artist who lingers with the dead. Photographer Sally Mann takes photos of the nameless donated and decomposing bodies at a research site in Knoxville, TN. She strokes their flesh, which is beginning to meld with the earth. In an interview on her book Complicated Grief, Laura Mullen writes: “Staying with the pain, attending to it, being present to and with it—that’s the task, because that’s the only (as far as I can tell) hope of finding a way forward.”

In Ancient Greece, it was women’s responsibility to grieve. They lead the prothesis, chanting funeral dirges and pulling at their hair.