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.)