When We Mourn

Within the last day or two, I read something that stuck with me. The concept stuck with me, anyway. I have been unable to find the source of the words I read, so I cannot accurately quote the words and give appropriate attribution. It’s the concept that matters, though. Here is an approximation, an attempt at remembering what I read:

When we mourn the death of someone close to us, we mourn not so much for that person, but for the death of the part of ourselves that only that person knew. We mourn the connection between us that cannot be repaired nor replaced.

As I consider the people close to me who have died, I ask myself who I was mourning at their deaths. Was it them, or was it the piece of my life that went missing with them? If the latter, it seems to me some might consider mourning an expression of selfishness, albeit necessary selfishness. An elastic bandage wound tightly around my entire body, mourning may be a garment required to keep the shattered pieces of my life from exploding into a cloud of dust and shrapnel. If that bandage were to unravel, so would I. But over time, the bandage takes on the shape of the psyche it was meant to protect, so it can be slowly unwound and discarded. But the shattered pieces never fully coalesce and heal; they need to be tended on occasion and wrapped anew in a temporary bandage. Regardless of how many times a new bandage is applied, though, the shape of my psyche never returns to the form it took before a death shattered it.

I think there’s more to mourning than self-protection, though. We grieve that death took from the person who died the opportunities they might otherwise have had to experience unmet moments in life. A child’s college graduation or marriage or the pleasures of a relaxed retirement. So many experiences suddenly become impossible for the person whose life disappears in an instant. I think we grieve—mourn—for her unrealized potential and for the ungiven gifts she could have given to the world around her.

We mourn as well, I suspect, because we did not take all the opportunities we had to take full advantage of the gifts the person who died could have given us, if only we had been less selfish with our time and more generous with our attention. It’s that aspect of mourning, I think, that may be among the hardest because it equates with our feelings of guilt that can never be erased. “If only…” The impossible cannot be recaptured, because it never was.

Other than the words I read but cannot remember where, I don’t know why this is on my mind this morning; no one close to me has died in the recent past. I suppose the words reminded me of those who have died and caused me to think about my mourning and the fact that it never stops. It disappears into the fabric of life for long periods, but it suddenly resurfaces for no obvious reason, resulting in unexplained sobbing and self-recriminations.

This post represents the sort of topic that people seem to tend to avoid. Perhaps it digs too deeply into a fragile area of the mind that requires extra protection, lest that elastic bandage snap and release a flood of private emotions. I know I can “talk” about extremely emotional topics only with my fingers and only hidden a safe distance away from anyone who might see or hear me. That may be a vestige of what my friend calls “testosterone poisoning,” the affliction whose symptoms include exhibiting male machismo. But perhaps it’s just evidence that I need protection. Maybe it is indicative of the observation made by Gabriel García Marquez: “Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life.” That secret life is the one we cannot reveal to anyone else; sometimes, we cannot even reveal it to ourselves. Yet writing about it is revealing. But it’s not the same—calmly exposing one’s weakest, most vulnerable side on an impersonal electronic monitor, versus risking the wounds that might follow openly unmasking one’s extreme sensitivity. 

As usual, I have drifted away from the topic of mourning and grief. But I think vulnerability and sensitivity play roles in mourning and in grief. The topics have been explored by professionals; there’s really no need for an amateur to offer his  untested and unproven theories and philosophies. But that’s what this blog is for; it allows a rank amateur to pretend to know more than he knows and to ask questions that either have no answer or have long since been addressed. It’s exercise for my arthritic fingers, too. And this blog supplements mourning; I mourn for the intellectual and emotional depth that drown in the shallowness herein. Enough drivel for the day. I have inconsequential tasks calling me.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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