(Eighth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
When I was young, I only went to one funeral. I can’t remember who it was for or where it was, but it must have been for a close relative or I wouldn’t have been there. I do remember seeing everyone dressed in black. It was a very somber setting, people talking in hushed voices, and I didn’t comprehend what was happening. I just knew everyone was sad. After that day, I never thought about that person again – and even if my parents thought about him or her, their acts of mourning seemed to stop with the funeral. And I had no knowledge of any grieving on their part because at that time and in their cultural setting, people kept feelings regarding their grief to themselves.
It wasn’t until 20 years ago when my younger brother died from AIDS that I was faced with a death that was so close I felt a personal loss that tore at my heart. There was no way to just quickly plan a funeral and burial and then move on. My life as I had known it, now had a gaping chasm where my brother had once been and it was not going to close up anytime in the near future. I needed someone who had travelled this path before me to guide me through the overwhelmingly disturbing and depressing feelings. None of my friends had experienced a close loss like this. So, I looked to the books that were most recommended: On Grief and Grieving by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis.
Those books, and others, are marked and worn from reading and re-reading as the years have passed and I’ve lost my sister to breast/brain cancer, my youngest brother to suicide, and my son to a heroin overdose – his death being as close to me as my own skin. I’ve learned the difference between grieving and mourning, as noted above in the quotes Chapter 6 in Opiate Nation. And I’ve learned that both are imperative after a death if we want to move forward in a healthy way and grow as our heart, mind, soul, and body heal.
The grief that my husband and I felt began the moment we were told of our son’s death – and it will continue until we join him. It is very different in intensity now compared to six years ago, but feeling his absence in our life will never go away. The acts of mourning that began that day –taking care of his personal affairs, going through photos, sorting his belongings – and continued mostly throughout the first year after his death are done. But now we do annual mourning rituals of remembrance for his birthday, the day of his death, and Dia de los Muertos. These are ways to honor him and his life.
Today, with over a million deaths from Covid-19 added to the deaths from other diseases, drug overdoses, natural disasters, wars, there are millions of us navigating the stormy waters of loss.
Although some are uncomfortable with open expressions of grief and acts of mourning, I encourage anyone who is suffering a loss to have the courage to fully experience your emotions and to express mourning in ways that are meaningful to you. The friends and family who love you will understand – the others really don’t matter anyway.