I guess I should start this out by saying that I haven’t recently lost anyone dear to me, and that I am not currently in mourning. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about lately, as dark as that sounds, and thought that it might be interesting to write about. See, death is a big deal. I don’t want to make it sound like anything less than it is. It’s not something to be taken lightly, as it is the end of a life. If you believe in an afterlife, that’s great because it gives you a sort of continuity after your temporal life is up and your physical body gone. (I find that idea comforting, though I suppose some people may not.)
Either way, people take death seriously. Even when we joke about death or make light of it, it is not so much a dismissal of something grave (no pun intended), but a lighter way of dealing with something that is in some situations too serious to address properly. I will grant that the notion of death has lost some of it’s seriousness due to overexposure in the news, movies, games, music, etc. (Although I’d like to posit that overexposure in media is a result of a culture which values life less than our predecessors.)
But here is my question: why is it only after a life has been lost that people grieve and mourn and show support? Why is it that other kinds of pain or brokenness are overlooked until death results, and we all turn out in our best black outfit to attend a teary funeral?
I’m talking anything from physical sickness to depression to mental illness to god knows what. When our parents get old and need help, we send them to homes for the elderly and consider them looked after until the day we get the phone call that they’ve passed. We don’t look after them ourselves. We don’t celebrate their lives by letting them pass down to us some of the great wealth of knowledge which they have accumulated through their many years. We pretend everything is fine until they’ve passed, and then we bawl our eyes out because we wish that there was more we could have done, or that we’d visited them last weekend when we had the chance instead of watching Netflix in our pajamas all day. If we’d been there more often for them, we’d have noticed when their life slowly began to slip from them, when they no longer had the will or strength to keep pushing through. We could have started to mourn then, in the sense of a sadness for them having to go, while still acknowledging their lives and value. If you can’t begin to mourn and address the pain of the situation before it’s all over and there’s nothing left to do, then you’ll be all the more lost when it slaps you in the face.
And what about depression? What about those with suicidal inclinations? We start by telling them they need help, then we actually send them to doctors, where they feel even more alone than before, and then soon enough they’re in a care facility on suicide watch, where it’s not at all apparent that there are people who care about their well being so much as people who are there to stop them from stopping their own pain. What kind of message is this to give to a person who is struggling all the way to the depths of their psyche? If we could mourn with them, feel their pain, absorb their confusion and prove to them that no matter how blindingly dark things become, that they will always have a companion ready to lead them as far as they need to go, do you think suicide rates would be as high as they are? I do not think they would be. If someone was there to hold them when they’re shaking with pain and tears and disillusionment, even if there was nothing they could say but just sit there, we would have fewer suicides. This is the mourning I’m talking about. Feeling someone’s pain. Dying a little inside when you stand by a friend who can’t see the slightest light at the end of the tunnel. Having true compassion for someone, whether you understand what they’re going through or not. Why can’t we mourn the pain that is within life, but only the pain that comes with loss of life? If we could mourn these smaller things, perhaps we’d have fewer of the big things to mourn.
And mental illness too – I don’t care who you are or what you say, but we live in a society which pushes these people away. Yes, there are more scientific and medical advances in this department than ever before. But along with clinical advances has come a vapid and heartless disinterest in those members of our society who are least equipped to take care of themselves. The varieties of mental illness which decrease the number of years a person is likely to live are the ones I’m thinking of right now, or the ones which have onset later in life. Once the mind is ‘not all there’ and basic capabilities begin to dwindle, these people are written off, by family, by friends, by all of society. Many of us just don’t know how to deal with the difficulties of helping or communicating with these people, and so avoidance is our best policy. When these people die, we mourn them like we mourn anyone else. But while they lived we treated them as less than persons. If we’d taken the time to learn how the think and operate, how they cope, what they’re facing and what they need, our lives and theirs would have been better spent. If we’d pushed through the heartache over a family member that we didn’t think was able to have the fullest and best of lives, and learned how to make things better for them while we could, their lives would be fuller and we’d have less regret, less to mourn at the end.
So this is why mourning confuses me. We wait until it’s too late, and then we decide we care. But while these people are here and while these situations are going on, we stay away, we pass the buck to somebody else, who likely has even less of a reason to care than you do (professional or not). If we let our hearts mourn a little bit more during life, enough to let us come through to some deeper or newer understanding, then the lives of these people would be able to be filled with more, and be more fulfilled, and at the end of it all, there would be less to mourn in their parting.