Posted by Tim Clark
Jenny Uzzell’s excellent GFG posting about the liminal state between death and burial has got me thinking, specifically about grief.
Grief is love that has been made homeless; I don’t know where that came from, I first heard it in “Borgen,” the Danish TV political series. It’s a striking, poignant idea – but does the love remain homeless? What home does it eventually find? Homeless people must find some sort of home eventually, or in our climate, they die. This, we know too well.
A good funeral can help people grieve; maybe a bad one obstructs a natural and necessary process. It seems to me that a good funeral affects, changes, the nature of grieving. I couldn’t – shouldn’t – hazard a guess about “from what to what,” but the liminal state between death and funeral has something to do with it, whether you use “liminal” literally or as a metaphor. To put it more simply, most people feel better after a (good) funeral.
The only definition about grief I can make is that you can’t define anyone’s grief: people grieve variously.
Down at the Good Funeral Awards gathering in Bournemouth, I went to a session delivered by Kristie West. Kristie is a young woman with the courage and insight to use a dreadful sequence of bereavement in her own family to get us to reconsider how grief does, or could, work. If you want to know more, go here.
But for now, let me pull out her point that the pain of grief separates us from the memory of someone we love, and that the belief that the pain is what keeps us in touch is a false and obstructive belief. We don’t want to keep re-visiting pain, so in fact, she is saying, the pain of grief pushes us away from visiting memories and thoughts about someone we love who is dead. They drift away from our consciousness because of the pain we haven’t addressed.
That seems to me a big idea. My view that each of us grieves differently doesn’t allow me to agree 100%, but something more important than agreement is happening to me. I’m thinking more carefully about grief: its origin in the death of someone we love; its in-between, homeless state until a funeral, until we accept that the body isn’t the person so we can let it go; and what happens to grief after the funeral.
I fear what happens to too many people is that they are left — literally — alone with their grief. Relatives drive home, friends are still there but they don’t know quite what to do, how to behave, now the funeral’s over. Perhaps we need, for secularists, some milestone rituals, we need to re-visit our grief in some succession of resonant acts. We need to do grief, we need to heal our pain. We need to provide some spiritual depth to help people after the funeral and on into their new lives.
There we go, baby-boomers once again trying to make it ours, trying to change it all our way. “Hey man, we need new rituals.” It is sometimes said we don’t know, understand, “know,” grief well, in our culture. Anyone who has been bereaved knows grief. Our job is to do the best we can for this person’s own unique grieving state.
Some of us might need new rituals. Some of us might need Kristie’s brave insights. But you can’t define or categorise anyone’s grief. Sometimes people really mean it when they say “I’m doing fine, thanks.”
Last word to Elizabeth Barratt Browning:
I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;
That only men incredulous of despair,
Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air
Beat upward to God’s throne in loud access
Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness,
In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare
Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare
Of the absolute Heavens. Deep-hearted man, express
Grief for thy Dead in silence like to death–
Most like a monumental statue set
In everlasting watch and moveless woe
Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.
Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet:
If it could weep, it could arise and go.