Death is a commonality of the human experience. In a world where we are taught to “expect the unexpected”, we all know that there will come a fateful day when our hearts will cease to beat, and we will die.
Be that as it may, we seem to have a great fear of death. Mainly because there is a finality involved that we cannot truly comprehend- either because of fear or ignorance. But death is synonymous with life, and we tend to find this out the hard way.
Our first brushes with our mortality are rarely our own. They usually come as a result of losing our loved ones to death. In experiencing the loss of those dear to us (especially those who seem to have died before they were ‘supposed to’ die), we are forced to understand the true meaning of loss, and how it influences life itself. In doing this, we look no further than love.
We often equate love with presence. Psychologist Barbara Frederickson explains this well when she writes, “true connection is one of love’s bedrock prerequisites…true connection is physical and unfolds in real time.”
But what happens when the person whom we love can no longer physically reciprocate and share a true connection with us?
As anybody who has ever lost a loved one will know, love doesn’t dissipate upon death. Instead, it deepens. Converging with longing and nostalgia, a truly unique sensation is born- grief.
As grief is often psycho-somatic in nature, it disrupts our daily lives. The absence of our loved one is acknowledged, felt and magnified as we reluctantly try to make sense of what seems like a new world. Ironically, while grief is a natural response to loss, it solidifies the existence of the deceased, because “the people we most love do become a physical part of us.” To many, this seems like a platitude our grief-resistant culture came up with. But it does have its basis in reality.
As emotional creatures, we have developed an ability to mimic traits and behaviours of those we are close to (ever seen how best friends talk in much the same way?). And our attachments to our deceased make us grasp for their likeness.
The way they used to stare into space, their goofy laugh…we seem to take on their characteristics, consciously or otherwise. They become a sort of familiarity in a world that has deep discomfort with grief and our expressions of it.
More than this, grief influences the way we see ourselves. Grief forces us to re-examine our lives. We are no longer insulated by ‘fate’ or ‘luck’. We are no longer safe. Life is no longer this monotonous string of days we must simply live through. Grief, above all, makes us vulnerable. Or more accurately, we rediscover our vulnerability due to grief. In knowing we can die anytime, we are propelled into action.
If the only true end is death, then why aren’t we being our true selves? What are we waiting for?
When we look at the self as an ever-evolving collection of thoughts, experiences and emotions, suddenly the process of grieving becomes invaluable to our development. We create, we curate and we change- all the while knowing that such luxuries won’t remain ours forever.