Archives for posts with tag: Mourning

photo

Susan Hill’s novel, written in 1974, is a story about loss, relationships, and about how we mourn.

The acute loss central to the story results from the sudden death of Ruth’s young husband Ben. However, a more global pre-existing loss is also unmasked by the tragedy.

Ruth is devastated by Ben’s death, and inhabits a place of unremitting despair where she is untouchable by others. Reluctantly, she attends the funeral, where she resents the mourning of others:

‘She imagined the line of dark mourners mounting the stairs and peering into the coffin. As Ben. Ben. How could they? How could so many people have touched him and looked at him, unasked, since the moment of his death, when she herself had not?

But it was better. She thought, they don’t have Ben.’

‘They were forcing her to take part in some curious ritual of their own…’

My sister’s husband died a few years ago, and I can see her response to his death, and to fellow-mourners, in Ruth’s behaviour. At the time, I struggled with my sister’s reaction, as I tried to deal with both his loss from our lives and also her belief that only she was entitled to mourn this loss.

Ruth, with time, comes to realise the wide-reaching effects of Ben’s death:

‘The death of Ben Bryce had been like a stone cast into still water, and the water had become a whirlpool with Ruth sucked down into the terrible heart of it. But the waves spread out, through the countryside down to the village and beyond the village. People felt changed, as if by war or earthquake or fire, even those who lived closest to death and knew its face.’

She comes to acknowledge her behaviour at the time:

‘But she had been too wrapped up, first within the warm womb of her happiness with Ben, and then in the cold shell of grief. She had not thought of anyone.’

We read to find ourselves, and to witness experiences that resonate with our own. Thus, within In the Springtime of the Year, I found some consolation in its echoes of my sister’s reaction to her husband’s death:

‘…she had kept Ben’s death to herself, as a private thing, tried to possess it utterly and allow no one else the right to mourn…’

CQ

This piece, from Tim Lott’s regular Guardian weekend column, is profoundly moving and sad, but also uplifting (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/feb/23/tim-lott-fathers-final-moments).

Lott tells of time spent (‘sad, but also tender and positive and beautiful’) with his imminently dying 87-year-old father.

Lott’s father was intermittently aware that his family was present, as they shared the experience amongst themselves, ‘laughter, reminiscence, and unexpected joy’, alongside their sadness.

Lott’s take on sadness and loss and mourning following death leaves much to reflect on, in terms of what we mourn…

‘I wept, but not for his death. He was fulfilled.’

‘I will miss him, but I will never mourn him. His death was, like the man himself, profoundly average yet utterly exceptional.’

Lott mentions something, which I have often personally considered:

‘Death is so intimate – more intimate than first love.’

This intimacy troubles me, and the extent to which we are truly ‘invited’ to be present at the time of dying. Intuitively and instinctively, it feels ‘wrong’ to allow someone you love (or indeed anyone) to die alone. Yet I also wonder whether, without explicit consent, it is one of the most intrusive and invasive things we, inadvertently, do.

I have no answer, apart from making my own wishes explicit to those I love.

CQ

Our relationship with death is influenced by many things, but culture and religion seem to predominate.

Yesterday while listening to BBC Radio4, I caught the end of Kate Adie’s programme ‘A Poisonous Cocktail’, which features reports from various correspondents around the world. The tail end I caught contained a report from Will Grant in Mexico.

Grant was recently in Mexico, during Halloween, a time which specifically highlights the relationship that Mexican people have with death, and with the dead. They mourn the loss of those who have died, but they also choose to celebrate their lives, with a national annual two day festival, which coincides with our Halloween.

The festival combines All Souls Day, All Saints Day and the indigenous rituals of the Day of the Dead, thus rooted both in a religious and a cultural heritage.

On day 1, altars and specific artefacts that evoke the memory of loved ones, to ‘help them on their way’, are on display throughout the country.

On day 2, the celebrations move to cemeteries, where candles are lit, and partying begins, literally dancing on the tombs of the dead, their way of saying goodbye.

Thus, in Mexico death is an integral part of the lives of the living. Children are aware from an early age that death is inevitable, and loss is simultaneously mourned and celebrated. The spirits and souls of those who have died are sent off into the unknown openly, with an embrace, and with love.

CQ