Thinking Out Loud about Grief and Mourning
Twelve years ago I wrote about this topic after a dear friend died. I wonder if anything is different today as I think about dear friends who have suffered the loss of loved ones: a spouse, child, siblings, friends, parent, including my Mother. Certainly customs have necessarily changed during this time of Covid. I notice the conversation has improved and death and loss are no longer hidden in the closet. On the other hand, if you google death and dying we get 937,000,000 results. In North America, in particular, we quickly commodify anything that gains traction. As well, we seem suspicious about prolonged grief and critical when we think it’s not long enough. Snap judgements abound, whether it is birth or death.
Even though arm bands, veils, black garb, and drawn blinds are mostly gone, it may be that we could benefit from a reprieve from our usual duties, albeit in a sunny room, not a darkened one. A room where we don’t need to talk or greet or comfort another but where food magically appears along with a hot cup of tea from time to time, and where a fire is laid and burning. A room where we can fall asleep in the chair and where fresh flowers adorn the single table and the cold is banished, and we are close enough to the sea, to hear the waves and smell the salt.
A room where you are automatically excused for not taking calls or answering emails or from trying to cheer up. A room where you can still expect, at any moment, for your loved one to re-appear- where maybe it has all been a big mistake, until you remember- no – this won’t happen.
This room would look out on to trees, and birds and water. There would even be a door leading to a path. But no fear of encountering anyone (no matter how dear) who wants to offer comfort or be comforted by you. A cloistered place where one is permitted to be alone with ones thoughts and fears and prayers and pain. No excuses are needed here to decline lunch or any social gatherings. No explanations are required.
One day in good time, (whenever that is) the desire awakens to move beyond the walls. It is different for everyone. No explanation for staying or leaving is required. Life does indeed move on but not easily or quickly for some and not at all by the timeline we typically use in our country. We speak a great deal about grief, the internal process of grieving. And yet we have few rituals for mourning – how we express that grief externally. I have no words either. Only glimpses these days of possibilities.
The Year of Magical Thinking
In Joan Didion’s book, The Year of Magical Thinking, she quotes a passage from Emily Post’s 1922 book of etiquette, which she found affirming after her husband of 40 years suddenly died.
“Persons under the shock of genuine affliction are not only upset mentally but are all unbalanced physically. No matter how calm and controlled they seemingly may be, no one, can under such circumstances be normal. Their disturbed circulation makes them cold, their distress makes them sleepless. Persons they normally like, they often turn from. No one should ever be forced upon those in grief, and all over-emotional people, no matter how near or dear, should be barred absolutely.
Although the knowledge that their friends love them and sorrow for them is a great solace, the nearest afflicted must be protected from any one or anything which is likely to over strain their nerves, already at the threatening point. And none have the right to feel hurt if they are told they can neither be of use or received. At such time, to some people, companionship is a comfort; others shrink from their dearest friends.”
The Nearest Afflicted
I am holding in my heart those who mourn, especially the “nearest afflicted.” And I want to say that there are as many ways to grieve as there are people. For some, companionship is the answer, including our work, and for others, solitude is what helps the most. (solitude doesn’t mean physically alone but the chance to be alone, even with others) Please trust yourself. There is no formula or one size fits all.
And these words won’t help anyone either… still, I think of dear friends who suffer, and you dear reader, whom I may not know, but for whom I care. You come into my thoughts and heart as I reflect on life and death; joy and sorrow. Tonight, I am thinking in particular what the loss of a beloved and lifelong soul mate, or a child, can mean to the bereaved. With special thoughts of D and K and any of you dear readers who know all too well what I write about.
In spite of the cold,
winter peonies, naked and leafless,
are in flower. by Sharai
climbs Mount Fuji. by Issa
Not a Haiku but a small poem that brings me solace and reminds me to do what I can do, by Nancy Gibbs Richard
It is a challenge
to accept the truth
of what no longer is possible.
and yet embrace all that still can be.
Note 2:) This evening was the most magical winter night of the season. There was something about the snow laden trees and the whiteness all around with the glow of the lights muted by the snow cover that simply made everything look like an understated and beautiful winter wonderland.
Note 3:) Naturally I think of my own sweet Mother who died last July. In truth, I think of her with love and joy, knowing she is free of suffering. I miss her delightful company but I don’t wish her back. 100 years, 3 months and 13 days was enough for her, and we had the gift of her presence much longer than could possibly be expected.
Note 4:) Thanks for opening this email and clicking to read. And thanks for your kind and encouraging words. It is a joy for me to show up every Wednesday and I appreciate you taking the time to stop by. Keep your eye peeled for joyful moments, as they are sometimes easy to miss. See you next week. Warmest wishes, Trudy