Commonplace and Singular

Author: joe

Thursday, 24 December, 2009 - 14:53

The umber journey through bereavement reveals itself as the experience which levels everyone sooner or later. No-one is born who cannot expect to grieve a parent, except by reversing the calamity. Notwithstanding the silence we collectively smother over death in our discomfort and inability to handle one another's tragedies, grief and bereavement touch every but the most unlucky life. Mourning is a commonplace, a universal. And yet it is utterly singular, uniquely experienced and individually felt; an axis around which a life will eventually turn. Like love, it happens to us all, and when it does, we are the only lovers in the world.

It was around Easter this year that I decided to study the nature of creative expressions of grief. I knew earlier than that that I wanted to study how creative activity - whether journal writing, drawing, poetry, musical composition, anything - had a therapeutic dimension. I struggled wildly to find an ailment of the body that I felt I could talk about without feeling like a charlatan interloper from a soft science - a quack calling the advocates of hard science, "quacks". Choosing instead an ailment of the soul may have been a retreat from an anticipated "clash of civilisations" where science and hermeneutics meet, but it was an advance in terms of making the study my own.

The vernacular ear hears words like "complex" and "syndrome" as mental illnesses - this is of course because they are wielded by doctors and psychoanalysts whom we so often call upon only when we feel sick in mind or body. But complexes and syndromes are what we all are made of. What makes you you, and makes me me, are the respective complexes through which we see the world. Far from seeing the world clearly, we all have our own individual motes in our eyes which render the glass dark. Grief is another complex, another mote; grief makes me me. If grief is an illness, then everyone who has lost someone is ill.

A friend said, a few weeks after my father died, that over time the pain of grief would die away. His mother had died when he was young. "Now I think of her occasionally," he said, "And it's sort of... 'Oh yes... Mum! She was a person, a long time ago...' you know. It'll get better." I was sure he was right, but that only made it worse. I didn't want the pain to go if it meant that the memory of those I loved also receded and lost their significance. Surely this meant that they died twice: their lives ended both in their own death and the death of their memory. If it meant that the memory of my father would dwindle to the facts and material residue of his existence, then I did not want the pain of grief to end.

Grief is something I do not want to let go; but equally I know it is a phenomenon with its own logic and evolution which, if not allowed to take its course, will become more than a complex: a neurosis, a pathology. I try to write again, and each time I summon spirits of grief as though the words are a magic rite which revives memories, enriches them and brings my father closer. There is an interplay between letting go and holding on; between inarticulacy and making meaning; between forgetting and remembering; between pain and solace.

Categories: xmas, dad, grief, complex, meaning,
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