Don’t let my people go

Charles 7 Comments



Writing in yesterday’s Times, Matthew Parris says: “missing somebody terribly, years after they’ve gone, is not some kind of psychological disorder to be “got over” or “dealt with”, but an honest response to loss. I hate all that stuff about closure and moving on.”

He was prompted to write this after being asked to discuss, on the Today programme on Wednesday, the feelings he expressed in an article in the Spectator three years ago, which chime exactly with Maurice Saatchi’s feelings about the death of his wife, which we quoted on Monday:

 “In my view, to move on is a monstrous act of betrayal and to come to terms with — I think I’d call that an act of selfishness.”

Parris is worth quoting at greater length:

I’ve decided that I don’t want to ‘come to terms’ with Dad’s death. It’s bloody awful that he isn’t here. It still cuts me up, and this is a fact of love. I’m perfectly capable of keeping things in proportion, as Dad always did, but I don’t want to ‘get things into perspective’, if by that one means wanting them to grow smaller. It’s a fact; his life is a fact; the gap now is a fact; it’s not getting any smaller; I’m sad, but I’m happy that I’m sad.

So: refusal to move on, get over, find closure — all of these are suddenly zeitgeisty. Just as celebrations of life express the new grieving style at funerals, so has indulging feelings of loss become the new grieving rule for the bereaved.

Except that it’s not new. It’s actually been around since 1996. What Parris and Saatchi have done is translate the idea of continuing bonds from scholarese into language comprehensible to ordinary joes like us. They’ve endorsed it, too, by virtue of being celebs. And they’ve got people talking.

Is it not terribly perilous to encourage people to indulge feelings that might lead to clinical depression? Is grief not an injury to the psyche that could easily turn gangrenous? Was Freud really wrong when he said that we need to break the bonds that tie us to a dead person – to unshackle ourselves from the corpse?

It seems he was. Research evidence shows that most people hurt like hell when someone dies, but they don’t go mad. On the contrary, they are more likely to benefit from post-traumatic growth – what doesn’t kill you (too) makes you stronger.

As for grief counselling, early intervention has been shown to be either valueless or to interfere with natural grieving. Intervention should be reserved for those who really need it, later, when it’s all gone wrong.

It seems to make sense that, though death ends a life, it doesn’t end a relationship. It feels right. So far as I can discover, there is just one rule: you must believe that the dead person is dead. They ain’t coming back.

And there’s just one proviso. People who are lousy at relationships with the living are lousy at relationships with the dead. No surprise there.

Do read the full Matthew Parris piece in the Spectator. You can find it here. (I quote it in funerals more often than I care to admit.)


  1. Charles

    Thank you Charles and Mr Parris. You get a Gloria for that (long time since someone was thus garlanded.) A pitifully small donation will got to the NSPCC (the Gloria Awards Committee keeps an eye on the headlines), for services to emotional health and psychological resilience. Much-respected Mr P would get one too, but he gets paid for what he writes.

  2. Charles

    “Once someone has been in the world, they have always been in the world; and once they have gone their absence will be in the world forever, part of the world…”

    Their absence will be real, however, only as long as it is noticed; and Mr Parris has helpfully pointed up one of the purposes of a funeral, viz; to ritually establish a person’s absence from our world, and so realize their presence in it.

  3. Charles

    Sorry to be the one voice of opposition here….
    I read Mathew Parris’ article in full, and it is not what I expected from the edited highlights shown here. There are 42 contributors on his page all saying the same thing: “thank you for putting it into words how I feel.”
    So here I am, a 59 year old man that has lost both his mother and father and I feel none of Mr Parris’ constant pain. I wish I did. I wish I had got on better with my parents and loved them more. That they had loved me more. That we had got on better. But we didn’t. All these things add up to whether you will constantly grieve for a lost relative or not.
    Do I feel guilty about not grieving for my dad now 5 years later on ? No. he made his choice, left my mother and moved away. I have no problem with that, he had his reasons. But then he cut off the rest of his family as well and that’s something I don’t forgive easily.
    I’m not writing this to gain pity, to say ‘look at how hard done by I am’, just to make the point that we don’t all miss our relatives terribly when they are gone. I miss them both, they were both a part of my life, but I can’t bring myself to have Parris’ degree of loss.
    Which led me onto think about mum’s funeral last year. The celebrant, (one of the good ones) asked me about mum and I told him as much as I could, but it was difficult to make her life interesting and… well, poignant. I wrote an honest poem that went down well, but there really wasn’t much to say in the end. I desperately wanted to do better for her, but it didn’t work that way.
    It made me realise that I will have to work really hard as a celebrant to make a tribute as real and as true to the family’s wishes as possible.
    Celebrants on here probably know this as a fact: I’m playing catch up here.
    Help !

  4. Charles

    Sorry – late to the party as always. Fascinating piece, article and comments. Chris – you are absolutely right – not every life is poignant, full or (forgive the word) “worthy”. The best thing we can do is tell the truth, but kindly.

    I remember a friend whose mother had died getting very upset when she heard others complaining about their Mum. I used to try to discuss it with her (along their lines of “but their Mum might be horrible, not as nice as yours”). I’m never convinced that she got what I was trying to say. I guess we base our thoughts firstly on our own experience – empathy usually requires another step.

    Love and peace to all.

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