Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Good mourning

Grief makes people uncomfortable. I have discovered this because my sweet lovely mother died on the 17th of January – just over two weeks ago now.

We’re encouraged to feel certain emotions – love and happiness for example are perfectly acceptable. But grief, sadness and mourning have to be swept out of sight.

On the day of my mother’s death when we were still numb with shock, people who genuinely wished us well said, ‘You wouldn’t want her to go on, would you? She was ill and she was a good age.’

And I wouldn’t want her to have gone on any longer. She’d suffered enough. My mother died at 84, a very good age, after an uncommonly good life. She had known sadness too, but she was aware of her good fortune. Her death is not a tragedy. But it’s nevertheless a loss – a huge one for us, her family, who will never know again her warm smile, her embrace, her handwriting on a carefully chosen birthday card, her eggplant dish or her chocolate mousse; in short, her love.

‘But you have so many good memories,’ they said. ‘The world doesn’t stop turning, move on.’ And those things are true too. But don’t we owe her – and perhaps even more, don’t we owe ourselves – this period of mourning?

Pardon us if we inconvenience you by our occasional tears, our sighs, our desire to slow down for a while. Where are you all going in such a hurry anyway? What are you so afraid of? Is it Death’s fetid breath that you smell? Is that what we remind you of?

My daughters tell me there’s a formula for how long the breakup of a romance is allowed to hurt. A day for a week or a week for a month; some allowance, anyway, that’s made for the pain caused by the end of a relationship with some boy whose name you’ll probably have trouble remembering eventually. So where’s the formula for a whole life of being loved, worried about, laughed and cried with? A day for a year? Two? Three?

What sort of human beings would we be if we didn’t mourn, or mourned for only a day or three? How could we ever experience true joy then? How would we ever be deserving of true joy?

Perhaps grief is so frightening and discomforting because we’re afraid of seeing how small and fragile our lives really are measured against forever.

I don’t like it either. I don’t like reminders of death and I don’t enjoy feeling grief: it’s a painful messy emotion. But I did love my mother and I know that I owe her this, and that my facing up to it will be her final gift to me. Thanks for it all, Mum