Musings on Grief & Mourning

Recently, I’ve been privy to two close bloggers’ grief. One lost her father, the other her grandfather. The pain they are experiencing is beyond what words could ever express and my heart goes to them.

Thoughts of death always make me go into introspection. I can’t help but examine my own feelings regarding the deaths of my parents. Which are pretty non-existent when I am in survival mode, which is to say, my every day mode.

When my mother died, I didn’t cry. I even wondered at some point why I didn’t feel like crying when everyone else was but I just couldn’t. The answer -at the time, was very simple*. I was glad for my mother. I was glad that she was not going to suffer anymore. There was even the possibility that she had gone to a better place where she could be happy. But even if one takes the approach that there is nothing after death, that was still good news. If there is nothing, there is no suffering, so I was relieved and happy for her.

Needless to say everybody thought it weird I was so composed. I am pretty sure more than a few thought I was a bad daughter for not showing the appropriate mourning signs. A year later, I was really sad because I lost a trinket that I treasured and that brought tears to my eyes. One of my uncles saw me and said to me: “You didn’t cry when your mother died and you cry because of that stupid thing?” How can one explain the nature of one’s trauma when one is merely 15 and doesn’t really have a grasp on one’s own psyche?

When 8 years later my father too died, I didn’t cry either. I only had the feelings of relief for him. He was a tortured man and that is no way to live.

Happiness and relief. That is all I felt when both my parents died. That is a concept quite difficult to understand, unless you are an African slave in the times of American slavery. And by American, I mean the continent. I much dislike the appropriation of the name but a certain American country.

But everywhere the European brought slaves from Africa, for said slaves, funerals were a time to celebrate, not to mourn, given that it was the only way to escape slavery.

I was very influenced by the Colombian Palenques. A Palenque was a walled village founded by escaped slaves (Cimarrones) where they could live free of the Spaniard yoke.

As a child, I learned the traditional songs and dances of the palenqueros. Not surprisingly some of them revolved around dying which was the same as freedom.

Fiesta el el Palenque. Photograph taken by Steven Joyce, and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution

I remember learning about this in history class, oh I don’t know, in third or fourth grade and thinking, well, I like this concept. Singing and dancing, being happy celebrating the life of the deceased instead of crying, and being terribly sad for losing them. Little did I know at the time how helpful this concept would be later on.

Some 30 years later, I still can’t be sad for my parents’ deaths. I am sad, angry and many other things for their lives, but never for their deaths. I still think they are/were much better off by dying young.

Throughout the years, I have lost other loved ones: close friends, paternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, and still I was  -for each one of them, secretly happy. They were finally free of suffering, of pain, of heartbreaks, of disease.

Throughout the years, I have also seen many of my friends lose a loved one (seriously, which Colombian doesn’t have at least one family member being murdered due to the awful civil war and the corrupt goverment?). Most of them suffer. I understand their pain, I console them, I speak compassionate words to them. But I can never relate.

I guess somehow deep inside of me, I am really a Cimarrona, happy to see people finally be freed of the chains of this world.


*In reality, it is not that simple. There is a bit more to it but I think I’ll leave that for another post

Recommended Readings

The Untold Afro-Colombian Stories of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast by Girl, Unstoppable

21 thoughts on “Musings on Grief & Mourning

  1. Rose says:

    Very interesting insights about you. I am a big crier and have a very hard time dealing with death. Perhaps I should take a closer look at your take on it and maybe find some relief. My grandpa died ten years ago this August — I am still sad, still angry, still grieving. That’s no way to live. This post gives me some hope.

    • Summer Solstice Girl says:

      Crying is not always bad. In fact, at times crying is the best thing to do and it helps a lot. When one cannot be done when one’s mourning, I think that’s when we have a problem. Also, I don’t think we ever get rid of all of the sadness and that’s ok. Of course we miss our loved ones that are gone.

      However, there is also a pathological component in my lack of mourning at least when it comes to my parents and that is a product of the severe trauma originated in my early childhood.

      But yeah, there is always hope. In an ideal world, we could get rid of the anger and the grieving and just keep a healthy amount of sadness when we miss them :)

  2. Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA says:

    You are amazing, SSG. I feel the same way. The body is a mere shell for the soul, a husk that is gladly shed, for the soul to wing upward and away from this world and its pain and trouble. My father is dying, although in slow motion; every day he slides further and further away, like a person in quicksand…in will be such a relief for him to finally be a Cimarrono! And I will certainly miss him, yet I will rejoice for his relief from suffering.

    • Summer Solstice Girl says:

      I don’t feel amazing at all, but thank you! :)

      While I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said, and most definitely share your feelings, I also do know that my lack of grieving and mourning is not all together healthy (Please read my comment to Rose above).

      The best thing we could hope for is to be able to rejoice for them in relief but to miss them. That how I feel about the man I knew as my maternal grandfather (really, a step-grandfather as I discover as an adult). He was very important to me in my childhood and I will always miss him but his last years were hell. I am happy for the good years he had and I am happier that he’s not in pain anymore. That I think, is a healthy mourning process and after-mourning attitude.

      What went with my parents? Not so much.

      • Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA says:

        I am always amazed at the relationships many people have with their grandparents, and how hard it hits them when they die. I had two sets of grandparents, and even great-grandparents, but I hardly knew them, had no relationship with them, and had no emotion when they died. So I am envious of people who actually did have relationships with their grandparents, enough to have to grieve their passing.

  3. Ruby Tuesday says:

    The custom of celebration was not something African slaves invented, actually, most of them brought it with them from their tribes, and in a few places, namely but not exclusively those the white man hasn’t poisoned too much with outside ways, it continues.

    Incidentally, if you want to see celebration after death in the good old fashioned middle class predominantly white set, come to an Irish Catholic wake some time. We get our crying done during Mass and at the graveside, then we all head back to a restaurant or (used to be) friend of the immediate family’s house, where we eat and drink and tell wonderful stories, look at pictures, and, most importantly, express our our gratitude for the life and love we share in the individual who passed on.

    • Summer Solstice Girl says:

      Yeah, I’ve heard of Irish wakes. I suppose the crying is inevitable. We humans cry out of sadness, out of love, out of happiness, out of pain. And crying can be very therapeutic indeed. That is why I think my lack of crying is concerning. In fact, I don’t think. I know it is.

      • Ruby Tuesday says:

        If YOU know it is, that’s another thing altogether, but I told my 11-year-old this last year when her dog died (no offense!) —

        You cannot regulate human emotions. The way you grieve will be different from the way your dad does or your mom or your sister. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel or go through something, there is only YOUR way, and your way is exactly the right way for you. Don’t you ever let anyone tell you differently.

        • Summer Solstice Girl says:

          Well, as I have discovered through years of therapy is that for me, both my parents died that terrible night when I was 6. I did most, if not all of my morning then. In very different ways for my mother and my father. In other words, it’s complicated :)

          And you are absolutely right about everybody mourning differently, of course. And since some of us considered our animal companions part of the family, we mourn them just as much

    • Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA says:

      I lived for three years on an apple orchard in Western Massachusetts. I was fortunate to live with the family (oh all right, the son was my partner). When the father of the family died, we went to the church, where the priest used Jim’s first name Francis, which he hated and if he was alive he would have punched out that priest, and everybody in the church laughed. The priest didn’t know so he didn’t laugh–I’m still laughing! We got old Jim buried and went back to the house, where we had at least a hundred relatives, friends, apple pickers–you name it. The enormous dining table groaned with covered dishes brought by the neighbors. There was a grand piano in the living room, and the top of it was covered with liquor bottles. Old Uncle Francis played the piano till he collapsed from inebriation. Everyone told funny stories about the departed, of which there were many. His wife started crying and couldn’t stop, so all the women stayed around her comforting her in the kitchen, and slipping into the living room to refill their liquor glasses.

      Jimmy Junior and I started playing fiddle and banjo in the living room, and we played until we couldn’t play anymore, at which point Uncle Frances woke up, got himself organized with refreshments, and started in again playing ragtime and waltzes. A few couples danced drunkenly.

      I went to go lie down and found somebody else snoring on my bed. So I went to the guest room and lay down for a while, then got back up and played another set with Jimmy, who could barely stand up to play fiddle so we sat down.

      And on into the night, till the sun came up and strong coffee with deep-dish apple pie made the rounds, and all the awake drunks made it home all right. We waked old Jim all right, and if he didn’t feel waked, it wasn’t our fault.

    • Summer Solstice Girl says:

      Well see, that the thing. When I was in school, I was thought that America, the continent was just one with three parts for easier studying: North America, Central America and South America.

      I wasn’t until I came to Canada that I learned that America was supposed to be two continents… so, I don’t know. It’s Pluto a planet?

  4. Sid Dunnebacke says:

    I hate that we’re 800 km apart. I just want to hold you and never let go. You may not cry for your mother and father, but I do. For them, for Claribeth, for YOU. I’m not suggesting in any way that I’m doing what you should, or that I’m grieving better than you did/do. Not at all. I guess I’m merely saying that you are such an inextricable part of me that I can’t help it. My grief, if I may even use that word, when I think of your childhood is intense. Having said all that, I don’t know what the point was besides that I want to hold you and care for you and let you cry on my shoulder for ten years if that’s what you need. All my love.

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